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Full text of "English critical essays (sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries) selected and ed. by Edmund D. Jones"

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Oxford University Press, Amen House, London E.C.4 











The present selection of English Critical Essays {Six- 
teenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centwies) was first pub- 
lished in The World's Classics in 1922, and reprinted iu 
1924. 1930, 1933. 1936, 1940, 1 94 1, 1943. Reset in 1947 
and reprinted in 1 952, 1 956 and 1 959 



JT is hoped that the present selection of critical 
essays will be found comprehensive enough to 
enable the reader to follow the main movements and 
counter-movements of English critical thought from 
the Renaissance to the Revival of Romanticism. 
Except in the few cases indicated, the texts have been 
given in full. But in order to avoid placing un- 
necessary difficulties in the way of readers unfamiliar 
with early English spelling and punctuation, the 
practice of modern editors of Shakespeare has been 
followed: the spelling has been modernized through- 
out, and the punctuation brought into closer con- 
formity with modern usage. 

E. D. J. 


Sir Philip Sidney, 1554-86 

An Apology for Poetry ..... 1 

Thomas Campion, 1567-1620 

From Observations in the Art of English Poesy . 55 

Samuel Daniel, i 562-161 9 

A Defence of Rhyme . . . . .61 

Francis Bacon, i 561- 1626 

The Nature of Poetry 88 

Ben JoNsoN, i573?-i637 

Extracts from Timber ..... 93 

To the Memory of WilHam Shakespeare . . 98 

John Milton, 1608-74 

Preface to Samson Agonistes .... lOl 

John Dryden, 1631-1700 

An Essay of Dramatic Poesy . . . .104 

Preface to the Fables . . . . .174 

John Dennis, 1657-1734 

From The Advancement and Reformation of 
Modern Poetry ...... 201 

(Alexander Pope, 1688- 1744 

An Essay on Criticism ..... 208 

Joseph Addison, 1672-1719 

Chevy Chase ....... 228 

Criticisms on Paradise Lost .... 240 

The Fairy Way of Writing . . . .261 


Thomas Gray, 17 16-71 

Poetic Diction ...... 265 

Dodsley's Miscellany ..... 267 

Edward Young, 1683- 1765 

Conjectures on Original Composition , .270 

Richard Hurd, 1720- 1808 

Heroic and Gothic Manners . . , .312 

Spenser and Milton . . . , .317 

The Faerie Queene . . . . . .319 

' Samuel Johnson, 1709-84 

Dryden as Critic and Poet .... 326 
Gray 374 

Thomas Warton, i 728-90 

Preface to Milton's Minor Poems . , , 386 




HEN the right virtuous Edward Wotton and I 
were at the Emperor's Court together, we gave 
ourselves to learn horsemanship of John Pietro Pugli- 
ano, one that with great commendation had the place 
of an esquire in his stable. And he, according to the 
fertileness of the Italian wit, did not only afford us the 
demonstration of his practice, but sought to enrich 
our minds with the contemplations therein which he 
thought most precious. But with none I remember 
mine ears were at any time more loaden, than when 
(either angered with slow payment, or moved with 
our learner-like admiration) he exercised his speech in 
the praise of his faculty. He said, soldiers were the 
noblest estate of mankind, and horsemen the noblest 
of soldiers. He said they were the masters of war and 
ornaments of peace ; speedy goers and strong abiders ; 
triumphers both in camps and courts. Nay, to so un- 
believed a point he proceeded, as that no earthly thing 
bred such wonder to a prince as to be a good horse- 
man. Skill of government was but a pedanteria in com- 
parison. Then would he add certain praises, by telling 
what a peerless beast a horse was, the only serviceable 
courtier without flattery, the beast of most beauty, 
faithfulness, courage, and such more, that, if I had not 
been a piece of a logician before I came to him, I think 
he would have persuaded me to have wished myself 
a horse. But thus much at least with his no few 
words he drove into me, that self-love is better than any 
gilding to make that seem gorgeous wherein ourselves 
are parties. 

Wherein, if Pugliano's strong affection and weak 
arguments will not satisfy you, I will give you a nearer 

240 B 


example of myself, who (I know not by what mis- 
chance) in these my not old years and idlest times 
having slipped into the title of a poet, am provoked to 
say something unto you in the defence of that my un- 
elected vocation, which if I handle with more good 
will than good reasons, bear with me, since the scholar 
is to be pardoned that followeth the steps of his master. 
And yet I must say that, as I have just cause to make 
a pitiful defence of poor Poetry, which from almost the 
highest estimation of learning is fallen to be the laugh- 
ing-stock of children, so have I need to bring some 
more available proofs, since the former is by no man 
barred of his deserved credit, the silly latter hath had 
even the names of philosophers used to the defacing of 
it, with great danger of civil war among the Muses. 

And first, truly, to all them that professing learning 
inveigh against Poetry may justly be objected, that 
they go very near to ungratefulness, to seek to deface 
that which, in the noblest nations and languages that 
are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, 
and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled 
them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges. And 
will they now play the hedgehog that, being received 
into the den, drove out his host, or rather the vipers, 
that with their birth kill their parents? Let learned 
Greece in any of her manifold sciences be able to show 
me one book before Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiod, all 
three nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history be 
brought that can say any writers were there before 
them, if they were not men of the same skill, as Or- 
pheus, Linus, and some other are named, who, having 
been the first of that country that made pens deliverers 
of their knowledge to their posterity, may justly chal- 
lenge to be called their fathers in learning, for not only 
in time they had this priority (although in itself anti- 
quity be venerable) but went before them, as causes to 
draw with their charming sweetness the wild untamed 
wits to an admiration of knowledge, so, as Amphion 
was said to move stones with his poetry to build 


Thebes, and Orpheus to be listened to by beasts — in- 
deed stony and beastly people. So among the Romans 
were Livius Andronicus, and Ennius. So in the Italian 
language the first that made it aspire to be a treasure- 
house of Science were the poets Dante, Boccaccio, and 
Petrarch. So in our English were Gower and Chaucer, 
after whom, encouraged and delighted with their ex- 
cellent fore-going, others have followed, to beautify 
our mother tongue, as well in the same kind as in 
other arts. 

This did so notably show itself, that the philo- 
sophers of Greece durst not a long time appear to the 
world but under the masks of poets. So Thales, Em- 
pedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural philo- 
sophy in verses; so did Pythagoras and Phocylides 
their moral counsels ; so did Tyrtaeus in war matters, 
and Solon in matters of policy : or rather, they, being 
poets, did exercise their delightful vein in those points 
of highest knowledge, which before them lay hid to 
the world. For that wise Solon was directly a poet it is 
manifest, having written in verse the notable fable of 
the Atlantic Island, which was continued by Plato, 
And truly, even Plato, whosoever well considereth 
shall find that in the body of his work, though the in- 
side and strength were Philosophy, the skin as it were 
and beauty depended most of Poetry : for all standeth 
upon dialogues, wherein he feigneth many honest 
burgesses of Athens to speak of such matters, that, if 
they had been set on the rack, they would never have 
confessed them, besides his poetical describing the 
circumstances of their meetings, as the well ordering 
of a banquet, the delicacy of a walk, with interlacing 
mere tales, as Gyges' Ring, and others, which who 
knoweth not to be flowers of poetry did never walk 
into Apollo's garden. 

And even historiographers (although their lips 
sound of things done, and verity be written in their 
foreheads) have been glad to borrow both fashion and 
perchance weight of poets. So Herodotus entitled his 


history by the name of the nine Muses; and both he 
and all the rest that followed him either stole or 
usurped of Poetry their passionate describing of 
passions, the many particularities of battles, which no 
man could affirm, or, if that be denied me, long ora- 
tions put in the mouths of great kings and captains, 
which it is certain they never pronounced. So that, 
truly, neither philosopher nor historiographer could 
at the first have entered into the gates of popular judge- 
ments, if they had not taken a great passport of Poetry, 
which in all nations at this day, where learning 
fliourisheth not, is plain to be seen, in all which they 
have some feeling of Poetry. 

In Turkey, besides their law-giving divines, they 
have no other writers but poets. In our neighbour 
country Ireland, where truly learning goeth very bare, 
yet are their poets held in a devout reverence. Even 
among the most barbarous and simple Indians 
where no writing is, yet have they their poets, who 
make and sing songs, which they call Arejtos, both of 
their ancestors' deeds and praises of their gods — a suffi- 
cient probability that, if ever learning come among 
them, it must be by having their hard dull wits 
softened and sharpened with the sweet delights of 
Poetry. For until they find a pleasure in the exercises 
of the mind, great promises of much knowledge will 
little persuade them that know not the fruits of know- 
ledge. In Wales, the true remnant of the ancient 
Britons, as there are good authorities to show the long 
time they had poets, which they called bards, so 
through all the conquests of Romans, Saxons, Danes, 
and Normans, some of whom did seek to ruin all 
memory of learning from among them, yet do their 
poets, even to this day, last ; so as it is not more notable 
in soon beginning than in long continuing. But since 
the authors of most of our sciences were the Romans, 
and before them the Greeks, let us a little stand upon 
their authorities, but even so far as to see what names 
they have given unto this now scorned skill. 


Among the Romans a poet was called Votes, which 
is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or prophet, as by his 
conjoined words vaticinium and vaticinari is manifest : so 
heavenly a title did that excellent people bestow upon 
this heart-ravishing knowledge. And so far were they 
carried into the admiration thereof, that they thought 
in the chanceable hitting upon any such verses great 
foretokens of their following fortunes were placed. 
Whereupon grew the word of Sortes Virgilianae, when, 
by sudden opening Virgil's book, they lighted upon 
any verse of his making: whereof the histories of the 
emperors' lives are full, as of Albinus, the governor of 
our island, who in his childhood met with this verse, 

Arma amens capio nee sat rationis in armis; 

and in his age performed it : which, although it were 
a very vain and godless superstition, as also it was to 
think that spirits were commanded by such verses — 
whereupon this word charms, derived of carmina, 
cometh— so yet serveth it to show the great reverence 
those wits were held in. And altogether not with- 
out ground, since both the Oracles of Delphos and 
Sibylla's prophecies were wholly delivered in verses. 
For that same exquisite observing of number and 
measure in words, and that high flying liberty of con- 
ceit proper to the poet, did seem to have some divine 
force in it. 

And may not I presume a little further, to show the 
reasonableness of this word Vates, and say that the 
holy David's Psalms are a divine poem? If I do, I 
shall not do it without the testimony of great learned 
men, both ancient and modern. But even the name 
Psalms will speak for me, which, being interpreted, is 
nothing but Songs; then that it is fully written in 
metre, as all learned Hebricians agree, although the 
rules be not yet fully found ; lastly and principally, his 
handling his prophecy, which is merely poetical. For 
what else is the awaking his musical instruments, 
the often and free changing of persons, his notablf 


prosopopeias, when he maketh you, as it were, sec God 
coming in His majesty, his telling of the beasts' joyful- 
ness, and hills' leaping, but a heavenly poesy, wherein 
almost he showeth himself a passionate lover of that 
unspeakable and everlasting beauty to be seen by the 
eyes of the mind, only cleared by faith? But truly now 
having named him, I fear me I seem to profane that 
holy name, applying it to Poetry, which is among us 
thrown down to so ridiculous an estimation. But they 
that with quiet judgements will look a little deeper 
into it, shall find the end and working of it such, as, 
being rightly applied, deserveth not to be scourged 
out of the Church of God. 

But now, let us see how the Greeks named it, and 
how they deemed of it. The Greeks called him 'a 
poet', which name hath, as the most excellent, gone 
through other languages. It cometh of this word 
Poiein, which is 'to make' : wherein, I know not whether 
by luck or wisdom, we Englishmen have met with the 
Greeks in calling him 'a maker': which name, how 
high and incomparable a title it is, I had rather were 
known by marking the scope of other sciences than by 
my partial allegation. 

There is no art delivered to mankind that hath not 
the works of Nature for his principal object, without 
which they could not consist, and on which they so 
depend, as they become actors and players, as it were, 
of what Nature will have set forth. So doth the astro- 
nomer look upon the stars, and, by that he seeth, 
setteth down what order Nature hath taken therein. 
So do the geometrician and arithmetician in their 
diverse sorts of quantities. So doth the musician in 
times tell you which by nature agree, which not. The 
jiatural philosopher thereon hath his name, and the 
moral philosopher standeth upon the natural virtues, 
vices, and passions of man ; and 'follow Nature' (saith 
he) 'therein, and thou shalt not err'. The lawyer 
saith what men have determined ; the historian what 
men have done. The grammarian speaketh only of 


the rules of speech; and the rhetorician and logician, 
considering what in Nature will soonest prove and 
persuade, thereon give artificial rules, which still are 
compassed within the circle of a question according 
to the proposed matter. The physician weigheth the 
nature of a man's body, and the nature of things help- 
ful or hurtful unto it. And the metaphysic, though it 
be in the second and abstract notions, and therefore 
be counted supernatural, yet doth he indeed build 
upon the depth of Nature. Only the poet, disdaining 
to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the 
vigour of his own invention, doth grow in effect 
another nature, in making things either better than 
Nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as 
never were in Nature, as the Heroes, Demigods, Cy- 
clops, Chimeras, Furies, and such like : so as he goeth 
hand in hand with Nature, not enclosed within the 
narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging only 
within the zodiac of his own wit. 

Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry 
as divers poets have done — neither with pleasant 
rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor what- 
soever else may make the too much loved earth more 
lovely. Her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a 
golden. But let those things alone, and go to man — 
for whom as the other things are, so it seemeth in 
him her uttermost cunning is employed — and know 
whether she have brought forth so true a lover as 
Theagenes, so constant a friend as Pylades, so valiant 
a man as Orlando, so right a prince as Xenophon's 
Cyrus, so excellent a man every way as Virgil's Aeneas. 
Neither let this be jestingly conceived, because the 
works of the one be essential, the other in imitation or 
fiction ; for any understanding knoweth the skill of the 
artificer standeth in that idea or foreconceit of the 
work, and not in the work itself. And that the poet 
hath that idea is manifest, by delivering them forth in 
such excellency as he hath imagined them. Which 
delivering forth also is not wholly imaginative, as wc 


are wont to say by them that build castles in the air: 
but so far substantially it worketh, not only to make 
a Cyrus, which had been but a particular excellency, 
as Nature might have done, but to bestow a Cyius 
upon the world, to make many Cyruses, if they will 
learn aright why and how that maker made him. 

Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison 
to balance the highest point of man's wit with the 
efficacy of Nature; but rather give right honour to 
the heavenly Maker of that maker, who, having made 
man to His own likeness, set him beyond and over all 
the works of that second nature : which in nothing he 
showeth so much as in Poetry, when with the force of 
a divine breath He bringeth things forth far surpassing 
her doings, with no small argument to the incredulous 
of that first accursed fall of Adam, since our erected 
wit maketh us know what perfection is, and yet our 
infected will keepeth us from reaching unto it. But 
these arguments will by few be understood, and by 
fewer granted. Thus much (I hope) will be given me, 
that the Greeks with some probability of reason gave 
him the name above all names of learning. Now let us 
go to a more ordinary opening of him, that the truth 
may be more palpable : and so I hope, though we get 
not so unmatched a praise as the etymology of his 
names will grant, yet his very description, which no 
man will deny, shall not justly be barred from a prin- 
cipal commendation. 

Poesy therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle 
termeth it in his word Mimesis, that is to say, a repre- 
senting, counterfeiting, or figuring forth — to speak 
metaphorically, a speaking picture; with this end, to 
teach and delight. Of this have been three several 

The chief, both in antiquity and excellency, were 
they that did imitate the inconceivable excellencies of 
God. Such were David in his Psalms; Solomon in 
his Song of Songs, in his Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs; 
Moses and Deborah in their Hymns ; and the writer of 


Job, which, beside other, the learned Emanuel Tre- 
niellius and Franciscus Junius do entitle the poetical 
part of the Scripture. Against these none will speak 
that hath the Holy Ghost in due holy reverence. In 
this kind, though in a full wrong divinity, were Or- 
pheus, Amphion, Homer in his Hymns, and many 
other, both Greeks and Romans, and this poesy must 
be used by whosoever will follow St. James's counsel 
in singing psalms when they are merry, and I know is 
used with the fruit of comfort by some, when, in 
sorrowful pangs of their death -bringing sins, they find 
the consolation of the never-leaving goodness. 

The second kind is of them that deal with matters 
philosophical: either moral, as Tyrtaeus, Phocylides, 
and Cato; or natural, as Lucretius and Virgil's 
Georgics; or astronomical, as Manilius and Pontanus; 
or historical, as Lucan ; which who mislike, the fault is 
in their judgements quite out of taste, and not in the 
sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge. 

But because this second sort is wrapped within the 
fold of the proposed subject, and takes not the course 
of his own invention, whether they properly be poets 
or no let grammarians dispute; and go to the third, 
indeed right poets, of whom chiefly this question 
ariseth, betwixt whom and these second is such a kind 
of difference as betwixt the meaner sort of painters, 
who counterfeit only such faces as are set before them, 
and the more excellent, who, having no law but wit, 
bestow that in colours upon you which is fittest for the 
eye to see, as the constant though lamenting look of 
Lucretia, when she punished in herself another's fault 
(wherein he painteth not Lucretia whom he never saw, 
but painteth the outward beauty of such a virtue). 
For these third be they which most properly do 
imitate to teach and delight, and to imitate borrow 
nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be; but range, 
only reined with learned discretion, into the divine 
consideration of what may be, and should be. These be 
they that, as the first and most noble sort may justly be 


termed Votes, so these are waited on in the excellentest 
languages and best understandings, with the fore- 
described name of Poets ; for these indeed do merely 
make to imitate, and imitate both to delight and 
teach, and delight to move men to take that goodness 
in hand, which without delight they would fly as from 
a stranger, and teach, to make them know that good- 
ness whereunto they are moved: which being the 
noblest scope to which ever any learning was directed, 
yet want there not idle tongues to bark at them. 

These be subdivided into sundry more special de- 
nominations. The most notable be the Heroic, Lyric, 
Tragic, Comic, Satiric, Iambic, Elegiac, Pastoral, and 
certain others, some of these being termed according 
to the matter they deal with, some by the sorts of 
verses they liked best to write in; for indeed the 
greatest part of poets have apparelled their poetical 
inventions in that numbrous kind of writing which is 
called verse — indeed but apparelled, verse being but 
an ornament and no cause to Poetry, since there have 
been many most excellent poets that never versified, 
and now swarm many versifiers that need never 
answer to the name of poets. For Xenophon, who did 
imitate so excellently as to give us effigiem iusti imperii, 'the 
portraiture of a just Empire,' under name of Cyrus (as 
Cicero saith of him), made therein an absolute heroical 
poem. So did HeUodorus in his sugared invention of 
that picture of love in Theagenes and Chariclea ; and 
yet both these writ in prose: which I speak to show 
that it is not rhyming and versing that maketh a poet 
— no more than a long gown maketh an advocate, 
who though he pleaded in armour should be an 
advc cate and no soldier. But it is that feigning notable 
images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delight- 
ful teaching, which must be the right describing note 
to know a poet by, although indeed the Senate of 
Poets hath chosen verse as their fittest raiment, mean- 
ing, as in matter they passed all in all, so in manner to 
go beyond them — not speaking (table talk fashion or 


like men in a dream) words as they chanceably fall 
from the mouth, but peizing each syllable of each 
word by just proportion according to the dignity of 
the subject. 

Now therefore it shall not be amiss first to weigh 
this latter sort of Poetry by his works, and then by his 
parts, and, if in neither of these anatomies he be con- 
demnable, I hope we shall obtain a more favourable 
sentence. This purifying of wit, this enriching of 
memory, enabling of judgement, and enlarging of 
conceit, which commonly we call learning, under 
what name soever it come forth, or to what immediate 
end soever it be directed, the final end is to lead and 
draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate 
souls, made worse by their clayey lodgings, can be 
capable of. This, according to the inclination of the 
man, bred many formed impressions. For some that 
thought this felicity principally to be gotten by know- 
ledge and no knowledge to be so high and heavenly 
as acquaintance with the stars, gave themselves to 
Astronomy; others, persuading themselves to be demi- 
gods if they knew the causes of things, became natural 
and supernatural philosophers; some an admirable 
delight drew to Music; and some the certainty of 
demonstration to the Mathematics. But all, one and 
other, having this scope — to know, and by knowledge 
to lift up the mind from the dungeon of the body to 
the enjoying his own divine essence. But when by the 
balance of experience it was found that the astronomer 
looking to the stars might fall into a ditch, that the in- 
quiring philosopher might be blind in himself, and the 
mathematician might draw forth a straight fine with 
a crooked heart, then, lo, did proof, the overruler of 
opinions, make manifest that all these are but serving 
sciences, which, as they have each a private end in 
themselves, so yet are they all directed to the high- 
est end of the mistress-knowledge, by the Greeks 
called Architectonike, which stands (as I think) in the 
knowledge of a man's self, in the ethic and politic 


consideration, with the end of well doing and not of 
well knowing only : — even as the saddler's next end is 
to make a good saddle, but his farther end to serve a 
nobler faculty, which is horsemanship; so the horse- 
man's to soldiery, and the soldier not only to have the 
skill, but to perform the practice of a soldier. So that, 
the ending end of all earthly learning being virtuous 
action, those skills, that most serve to bring forth that, 
have a most just title to be princes over all the rest. 
Wherein we can show the poet's nobleness, by setting 
him before his other competitors, among whom as 
principal challengers step forth the moral philosophers, 
whom, me thinketh, I see coming towards me with 
a sullen gravity, as though they could not abide vice 
by daylight, rudely clothed for to witness outwardly 
their contempt of outward things, with books in their 
hands against glory, whereto they set their names, 
sophistically speaking against subtlety, and angry 
with any man in whom they see the foul fault of anger. 
These men casting largesse as they go of definitions, 
divisions, and distinctions, with a scornful interroga- 
tive do soberly ask whether it be possible to find any 
path so ready to lead a man to virtue as that which 
teacheth what virtue is — and teacheth it not only by 
delivering forth his very being, his causes, and eflfects, 
but also by making known his enemy, Vice (which 
must be destroyed), and his cumbersome servant, 
Passion (which must be mastered), by showing the 
generalities that containeth it, and the specialities that 
are derived from it; lastly, by plain setting down, how 
it extendeth itself out of the limits of a man's own little 
world to the government of families, and maintaining 
of public societies. 

The historian scarcely giveth leisure to the moralist 
to say so much, but that he, laden with old mouse- 
eaten records, authorizing himself (for the most part) 
upon other histories, whose greatest authorities are 
built upon the notable foundation of hearsay; having 
much ado to accord differing writers and to pick truth 


out of partiality; better acquainted with a thousand 
years ago than with the present age, and yet better 
knowing how this world goeth than how his own wit 
runneth; curious for antiquities and inquisitive of 
novelties; a wonder to young folks and a tyrant in 
table talk, denieth, in a great chafe, that any man for 
teaching of virtue, and virtuous actions, is compar- 
able to him. 'I am Lux vitae, Temporum magistra. Vita 
memoriae, Nuncia veticstatis,' &c. The philosopher (saith 
he) 'teacheth a disputative virtue, but I do an active. 
His virtue is excellent in the dangerless Academy of 
Plato, but mine showeth forth her honourable faee 
in the battles of Marathon, Pharsalia, Poitiers, and 
Agincourt. He teacheth virtue by certain abstract 
considerations, but I only bid you follow the footing 
of them that have gone before you. Old-aged ex- 
perience goeth beyond the fine-witted philosopher, 
but I give the experience of many ages. Lastly, if he 
make the song-book, I put the learner's hand to the 
lute; and if he be the guide, I am the Hght.' 

Then would he allege you innumerable examples, 
conferring story by story, how much the wisest senators 
and princes have been directed by the credit of history, 
as Brutus, Alphonsus of Aragon, and who not, if need 
be? At length the long line of their disputation maketh 
a point in this, that the one giveth the precept, and the 
other the example. 

Now, whom shall we find (since the question 
standeth for the highest form in the School of Learn- 
ing) to be Moderator? Truly, as me seemeth, the 
poet; and if not a Moderator, even the man that 
ought to carry the title from them both, and much 
more from all other serving sciences. Therefore com- 
pare we the poet with the historian, and with the 
moral philosopher; and, if he go beyond them both, 
no other human skill can match him. For as for the 
Divine, with all reverence it is ever to be excepted, 
not only for having his scope as far beyond any of these 
as eternity exceedeth a moment, but even for passing 


each of these in themselves. And for the lawyer, 
though Jus be the daughter of Justice, and Justice the 
chief of virtues, yet because he seeketh to make men 
good rather formidine poenae than virtutis amore, or, to 
say righter, doth not endeavour to make men good, 
but that their evil hurt not others, having no care, so 
he be a good citizen, how bad a man he be : therefore, 
as our wickedness maketh him necessary, and necessity 
maketh him honourable, so is he not in the deepest 
truth to stand in rank with these who all endeavour to 
take naughtiness away, and plant goodness even in the 
secretest cabinet of our souls. And these four are all 
that any way deal in that consideration of men's 
manners, which being the supreme knowledge, they 
that best breed it deserve the best commendation. 

The philosopher therefore and the historian are 
they which would win the goal, the one by precept, 
the other by example. But both, not having both, do 
both halt. For the philosopher, setting down with 
thorny argument the bare rule, is so hard of utterance, 
and so misty to be conceived, that one that hath no 
other guide but him shall wade in him till he be old 
before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. For 
his kno\\'ledge standeth so upon the abstract and 
general, that happy is that man who may understand 
him, and more happy that can apply what he doth 
understand. On the other side, the historian, wanting 
the precept, is so tied, not to what should be but to 
what is, to the particular truth of things and not to the 
general reason of things, that his example draweth no 
necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful 

Now doth the peerless poet perform both : for what- 
soever the philosopher saith should be done, he giveth 
a perfect picture of it in some one by whom he pre- 
supposeth it was done; so as he coupleth the general 
notion with the particular example. A perfect picture 
I say, for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an 
image of that whereof the philosopher bestoweth but 


a wordish description: which doth neither strike, 
pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul so much as that 
other doth. 

For as in outward things, to a man that had never 
seen an elephant or a rhinoceros, who should tell him 
most exquisitely all their shapes, colour, bigness, and 
particular marks, or of a gorgeous palace the archi- 
tecture, with declaring the full beauties might well 
make the hearer able to repeat, as it were by rote, all 
he had heard, yet should never satisfy his inward con- 
ceits with being witness to itself of a true lively know- 
ledge: but the same man, as soon as he might see 
those beasts well painted, or the house well in model, 
should straightways grow, without need of any de- 
scription, to a judicial comprehending of them: so no 
doubt the philosopher with his learned definition — be 
it of virtue, vices, matters of public policy or private 
government — replenisheth the memory with many 
infallible grounds of wisdom, which, notwithstanding, 
lie dark before the imaginative and judging power, if 
they be not illuminated or figured forth by the speaking 
picture of Poesy. 

TuUy taketh much pains, and many times not with- 
out poetical helps, to make us know the force love of 
our country hath in us. Let us but hear old Anchises 
speaking in the midst of Troy's flames, or see Ulysses in 
the fullness of all Calypso's delights bewail his absence 
from barren and beggarly Ithaca. Anger, the Stoics 
say, was a short madness : let but Sophocles bring you 
Ajax on a stage, killing and whipping sheep and oxen, 
thinking them the army of Greeks, with their chief- 
tains Agamemnon and Menelaus, and tell me if you 
have not a more familiar insight into anger than 
finding in the Schoolmen his genus and difference. 
See whether wisdom and temperance in Ulysses and 
Diomedes, valour in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and 
Euryalus, even to an ignorant man carry not an 
apparent shining, and, contrarily, the remorse of 
conscience in Oedipus, the soon repenting pride of 


Agamemnon, the self-devouring cruelty in his father 
Atreus, the violence of ambition in the tvv'o Theban 
brothers, the sour-sweetness of revenge in Medea, and, 
to fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho and our Chaucer's 
Pandar so expressed that we now use their names to 
signify their trades ; and finally, all virtues, vices, and 
passions so in their own natural seats laid to the view, 
that we seem not to hear of them, but clearly to 
see through them. But even in the most excellent 
determination of goodness, what philosopher's counsel 
can so readily direct a prince, as the feigned Cyrus in 
Xenophon; or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as 
Aeneas in Virgil; or a whole Commonwealth, as the 
way of Sir Thomas More's Utopia! I say the way, be- 
cause where Sir Thomas More erred, it was the fault 
of the man and not of the poet, for that way of pattern- 
ing a Commonwealth was most absolute, though he per- 
chance hath not so absolutely performed it. For the 
question is, whether the feigned image of Poesy or the 
regular instruction of Philosophy hath the more force 
in teaching: wherein if the philosophers have more 
rightly showed themselves philosophers than the poets 
have attained to the high top of their profession, as in 


Mediocribus esse poetis, 
JVon Dii, non homines, non concessere Columnae; 
it is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by 
few men that art can be accomplished. Certainly, 
even our Saviour Christ could as well have given the 
moral commonplaces of uncharitableness and humble- 
ness as the divine narration of Dives and Lazarus; or 
of disobedience and mercy, as that heavenly discourse 
of the lost child and the gracious father; but that His 
through-searching wisdom knew the estate of Dives 
burning in hell, and of Lazarus being in Abraham's 
bosom, would more constandy (as it were) inhabit 
both the memory and judgement. Truly, for myself, 
meseems I see before my eyes the lost child's disdairiful 
prodigahty, turned to envy a swine's dinner: which 


by the learned Divines are thought not historical acts, 
but instructing parables. For conclusion, I say the 
Philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as 
the learned only can understand him; that is to say, 
he teacheth them that are already taught. But the 
poet is the food for the tenderest stomachs, the poet is 
indeed the right popular philosopher, whereof Aesop's 
tales give good proof: whose pretty allegories, stealing 
under the formal tales of beasts, make many, more 
beastly than beasts, begin to hear the sound of virtue 
from these dumb speakers. 

But now may it be alleged that, if this imagining of 
matters be so fit for the imagination, then must the 
historian needs surpass, who bringeth you images of 
true matters, such as indeed were done, and not such 
as fantastically or falsely may be suggested to have 
been done. Truly, Aristotle himself, in his discourse 
of Poesy, plainly determineth this question, saying 
that Poetry is Philosophoteron and Spoudaioieron, that is 
to say, it is more philosophical and more studiously 
serious than history. His reason is, because Poesy 
dealeth with Katholou, that is to say, with the universal 
consideration, and the history with Kathekaston, the 
particular: 'now', saith he, 'the universal weighs what 
is fit to be said or done, either in likelihood or necessity 
(which the Poesy considereth in his imposed names), 
and the particular only marks whether Alcibiades did, 
or suflFered, this or that.' Thus far Aristotle: which 
reason of his (as all his) is most full of reason. For in- 
deed, if the question were whether it were better to 
have a particular act truly or falsely set down, there 
is no doubt which is to be chosen, no more than 
whether you had rather have Vespasian's picture right 
as he was, or at the painter's pleasure nothing resem- 
bling. But if the question be for your own use and 
learning, whether it be better to have it set down as it 
should be, or as it was, then certainly is more doctrin- 
able the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon than the true 
Cyrus in Justin, and the feigned Aeneas in Virgil than 


the right Aeneas in Dares Phrygius : as to a lady that 
desired to fashion her countenance to the best grace, 
a painter should more benefit her to portrait a most 
sweet face, writing Canidia upon it, than to paint 
Canidia as she was, who, Horace sweareth, was foul 
and ill favoured. 

If the poet do his part aright, he will show you in 
Tantalus, Atreus, and such like, nothing that is not to 
be shunned ; in Cyrus, Aeneas, Ulysses, each thing to 
be followed ; where the historian, bound to tell things 
as things were, cannot be liberal (without he will be 
poetical) of a perfect pattern, but, as in Alexander or 
Scipio himself, show doings, some to be liked, some to 
be misliked. And then how will you discern what to 
follow but by your own discretion, which you had 
without reading Quintus Curtius? And whereas a 
man may say, though in universal consideration of 
doctrine the poet prevaileth, yet that the history, in 
his saying such a thing was done, doth warrant a man 
more in that he shall follow; the answer is manifest: 
that if he stand upon that was — as if he should argue, 
because it rained yesterday, therefore it should rain 
to-day — then indeed it hath some advantage to a 
gross conceit; but if he know an example only informs 
a conjectured likelihood, and so go by reason, the 
poet doth so far exceed him, as he is to frame his 
example to that which is most reasonable, be it in 
warlike, politic, or private matters ; where the historian 
in his bare was hath many times that which we call 
fortune to overrule the best wisdom. Many times he 
must tell events whereof he can yield no cause : or, if 
he do, it must be poetical. 

For that a feigned example hath as much force to 
teach as a true example (for as for to move, it is clear, 
since the feigned may be tuned to the highest key of 
passion), let us take one example wherein a poet and 
a historian do concur. Herodotus and Justin do both 
testify that Zopyrus, King Darius's faithful servant, 
seeing his master long resisted by the rebellious Baby- 


lonians, feigned himself in extreme disgrace of his 
king: for verifying of which, he caused his own nose 
and ears to be cut off, and so flying to the Babylonians, 
was received, and for his known valour so far credited, 
that he did find means to deUver them over to Darius. 
Much like matter doth Livy record of Tarquinius and 
his son. Xenophon excellently feigneth such another 
stratagem performed by Abradates in Cyrus's behalf. 
Now would I fain know, if occasion be presented unto 
you to serve your prince by such an honest dissimula- 
tion, why you do not as well learn it of Xenophon's 
fiction as of the other's verity — and truly so much the 
better, as you shall save your nose by the bargain ; for 
Abradates did not counterfeit so far. So then the best 
of the historian is subject to the poet; for whatsoever 
action, or faction, whatsoever counsel, policy, or war 
stratagem the historian is bound to recite, that may 
the poet (if he list) with his imitation make his own, 
beautifying it both for further teaching, and more de- 
lighting, as it pleaseth him, having all, from Dante's 
heaven to his hell, under the authority of his pen. 
Which if I be asked what poets have done so, as I 
might well name some, yet say I, and say again, I 
speak of the art, and not of the artificer. 

Now, to that which commonly is attributed to the 
praise of histories, in respect of the notable learning is 
gotten by marking the success, as though therein a 
man should see virtue exalted and vice punished — 
truly that commendation is peculiar to Poetry, and 
far off from History. For indeed Poetry ever setteth 
virtue so out in her best colours, making Fortune her 
well-waiting handmaid, that one must needs be 
enamoured of her. Well may you see Ulysses in a 
storm, and in other hard plights; but they are but 
exercises of patience and magnanimity, to make them 
shine the more in the near-following prosperity. And 
of the contrary part, if evil men come to the stage, 
they ever go out (as the tragedy writer answered to 
one that misliked the show of such persons) so 


manacled as they little animate folks to follow them. 
But the historian, being captived to the truth of a 
foolish world, is many times a terror from well doing, 
and an encouragement to unbridled wickedness. 

For see we not valiant Miltiades rot in his fetters : 
the just Phocion and the accomplished Socrates put 
to death like traitors; the cruel Severus live pros- 
perously; the excellent Severus miserably murdered; 
Sylla and Marius dying in their beds; Pompey and 
Cicero slain then when they would have thought exile 
a happiness? See we not virtuous Cato driven to kill 
himself, and rebel Caesar so advanced that his name 
yet, after i,6oo years, lasteth in the highest honour? 
^Vnd mark but even Caesar's own words of the fore- 
named Sylla (who in that only did honestly, to put 
down his dishonest tyranny), Literas nescivit, as if want 
of learning caused him to do well. He meant it not 
by Poetry, which, not content with earthly plagues, 
deviseth new punishments in hell for tyrants, nor yet 
by Philosophy, which teacheth Occidendos esse; but no 
doubt by skill in History, for that indeed can afford 
your Cypselus, Periander, Phalaris, Dionysius, and 
I know not how many more of the same kennel, that 
speed well enough in their abominable injustice or 
usurpation. I conclude, therefore, that he excelleth 
History, not only in furnishing the mind with know- 
ledge, but in setting it forward to that which deserveth 
to be called and accounted good: which setting for- 
ward, and moving to well doing, indeed setteth the 
laurel crown upon the poet as victorious, not only of 
the historian, but over the philosopher, howsoever in 
teaching it may be questionable. 

For suppose it be granted (that which I suppose 
with great reason may be denied) that the philo- 
sopher, in respect of his methodical proceeding, doth 
teach more perfectly than the poet, yet do I think 
that no man is so much Philophilosophos as to compare 
the philosopher, in moving, with the poet. 

And that moving is of a higher degree than teach- 


ing, it may by this appear, that it is wellnigh the 
cause and the effect of teaching. For who will be 
taught, if he be not moved with desire to be taught, 
and what so much good doth that teaching bring 
forth (I speak still of moral doctrine) as that it 
moveth one to do that which it doth teach? For, as 
Aristotle saith, it is not Gnosis but Praxis must be the 
fruit. And how Praxis cannot be, without being 
moved to practise, it is no hard matter to consider. 

The philosopher showeth you the way, he informeth 
you of the particularities, as well of the tediousness 
of the way, as of the pleasant lodging you shall have 
when your journey is ended, as of the many by- 
turnings that may divert you from your way. But this 
is to no man but to him that will read him, and read 
him with attentive studious painfulness; which con- 
stant desire whosoever hath in him, hath already 
passed half the hardness of the way, and therefore is 
beholding to the philosopher but for the other half. 
Nay truly, learned men have learnedly thought that 
where once reason hath so much overmastered passion 
as that the mind hath a free desire to do well, the 
inward light each mind hath in itself is as good as 
a philosopher's book; seeing in nature we know it is 
well to do well, and what is well and what is evU, 
although not in the words of art which philosophers 
bestow upon us. For out of natural conceit the philo- 
sophers drew it; but to be moved to do that which we 
know, or to be moved with desire to know. Hoc opus, 
hie labor est. 

Now therein of all sciences (I speak still of human, 
and according to the humane conceits) is our poet the 
monarch. For he doth not only show the way, but 
giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice 
any man to enter into it. Nay, he doth, as if your 
journey should lie through a fair vineyard, at the first 
give you a cluster of grapes, that, full of that taste, you 
may long to pass further. He beginneth not with 
obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with 


interpretations, and load the memory with doubtful- 
ness ; but he cometh to you with words set in dehght- 
ful proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared 
for, the well enchanting skUl of music; and with a 
tale forsooth he cometh unto you, with a tale which 
holdeth children from play, and old men from the 
chimney comer. And, pretending no more, doth 
intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to 
virtue : even as the child is often brought to take most 
wholesome things by hiding them in such other as 
have a pleasant taste : which, if one should begin to 
tell them the nature of aloes or rhubarb they should 
receive, would sooner take their physic at their ears 
than at their mouth. So is it in men (most of which 
are childish in the best things, till they be cradled in 
their graves) : glad they will be to hear the tales of 
Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, and Aeneas; and, hearing 
them, must needs hear the right description of wisdom, 
valour, and justice ; which, if they had been barely, 
that is to say philosophically, set out, they would swear 
they be brought to school again. 

That imitation whereof Poetry is, hath the most 
conveniency to Nature of all other, insomuch that, 
as Aristotle saith, those things which in themselves 
are horrible, as cruel battles, unnatural monsters, are 
made in poetical imitation delightful. Truly, I have 
known men, that even with reading Amadis de Gaule 
(which God knoweth wanteth much of a perfect 
poesy) have found their hearts moved to the exercise 
of courtesy, liberality, and especially courage. "Who 
readeth Aeneas carrying old Anchises on his back, that 
wisheth not it were his fortune to perform so excellent 
an act? Whom do not the words of Turnus move, the 
tale of Turnus having planted his image in the 
imagination ? — 

Fiigientem haec terra videbit? 
Usque adeone mori miserum est? 

Where the philosophers, as they scorn to delight, so 
must they be content little to move, saving wrangling 


whether Virtue be the chief or the only good, whether 
the contemplative or the active life do excel : which 
Plato and Boethius well knew, and therefore made 
Mistress Philosophy very often borrow the masking 
raiment of Poesy. For even those hard-hearted evil 
men who think virtue a school name, and know no 
other good but indidgere genio, and therefore despise 
the austere admonitions of the philosopher, and feel 
not the inward reason they stand upon, yet will be 
content to be delighted — which is all the good fellow 
poet seemeth to promise — and so steal to see the form 
of goodness, which seen they cannot but love ere 
themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of 

Infinite proofs of the strange effects of this poetical 
invention might be alleged ; only two shall serve, which 
are so often remembered as I think all men know 
them; the one of Menenius Agrippa, who, when the 
whole people of Rome had resolutely divided them- 
selves from the Senate, with apparent show of utter 
ruin, though he were (for that time) an excellent 
orator, came not among them upon trust of figurative 
speeches or cunning insinuations, and much less with 
farfetched maxims of Philosophy, which (especially if 
they were Platonic) they must have learned geometry 
before they could well have conceived; but forsooth 
he behaves himself Uke a homely and familiar poet. 
He telleth them a tale, that there was a time when 
all the parts of the body made a mutinous conspiracy 
against the belly, which they thought devoured the 
fruits of each other's labour: they concluded they 
would let so unprofitable a spender starve. In the 
end, to be short (for the tale is notorious, and as 
notorious that it was a tale), with punishing the belly 
they plagued themselves. This applied by him 
wrought such effect in the people, as I never read 
that ever words brought forth but then so sudden and 
so good an alteration ; for upon reasonable conditions 
a perfect reconcilement ensued. The other is of 


Nathan the Prophet, who, when the holy David had 
so far forsaken God as to confirm adultery with mur- 
der, when he was to do the tenderest office of a friend, 
in laying his own shame before his eyes, sent by God 
to call again so chosen a servant, how doth he it but 
by telling of a man whose beloved lamb was ungrate- 
fully taken from his bosom? — the application most 
divinely true, but the discourse itself feigned. Which 
made David (I speak of the second and instrumental 
cause) as in a glass to see his own filthiness, as that 
heavenly Psalm of Mercy well testifieth. 

By these, therefore, examples and reasons, I think 
it may be manifest that the Poet, with that same hand 
of delight, doth draw the mind more effectually than 
any other art doth: and so a conclusion not unfitly 
ensueth, that, as Virtue is the most excellent resting 
place for all worldly learning to make his end of, so 
Poetry, being the most familiar to teach it, and most 
princely to move towards it, in the most excellent 
work is the most excellent workman. But I am con- 
tent not only to decipher him by his works (although 
works in commendation or dispraise must ever hold 
an high authority), but more narrowly will examine 
his parts : so that, as in a man, though all together may 
carry a presence full of majesty and beauty, perchance 
in some one defectious piece we may find a blemish. 
Now in his parts, kinds, or species (as you list to term 
them), it is to be noted that some poesies have coupled 
together two or three kinds, as tragical and comical, 
whereupon is risen the tragi-comical. Some, in the 
like manner, have mingled prose and verse, as San- 
nazzaro and Boethius. Some have mingled matters 
heroical and pastoral. But that cometh all to one in 
this question, for, if severed they be good, the con- 
junction cannot be hurtful. Therefore, perchance for- 
getting some, and leaving some as needless to be 
remembered, it shall not be amiss in a word to cite the 
special kinds, to see what faults may be found in the 
right use of them. 


Is it then the Pastoral Poem which is misUked? For 
perchance where the hedge is lowest they will soonest 
leap over. Is the poor pipe disdained, which some- 
time out of Melibaeus' mouth can show the misery of 
people under hard lords or ravening soldiers, and 
again, by Tityrus, what blessedness is derived to them 
that lie lowest from the goodness of them that sit 
highest? sometimes, under the pretty tales of wolves 
and sheep, can include the whole considerations of 
wrongdoing and patience; sometimes show that con- 
tention for trifles can get but a trifling victory; where 
perchance a man may see that even Alexander and 
Darius, when they strave who should be cock of this 
world's dunghill, the benefit they got was that the after- 
livers may say, 

Haec memini et victum frustra contendere Thirsin: 
Ex illo Coridon, Coridon est tempore nobis. 

Or is it the lamenting Elegiac, which in a kind heart 
would move rather pity than blame, who bewails with 
the great philosopher Heraclitus the weakness of man- 
kind and the wretchedness of the world ; who surely is 
to be praised, either for compassionate accompanying 
just causes of lamentation, or for rightly pointing out 
how weak be the passions of woefulness? Is it the 
bitter but wholesome Iambic, which rubs the galled 
mind, in making shame the trumpet of villainy with 
bold and open crying out against naughtiness? Or 
the Satiric, who 

Omne vafer vitium ridenti tangit amico; 

who sportingly never leaveth until he make a man 
laugh at folly, and, at length ashamed, to laugh at 
himself, which he cannot avoid, without avoiding the 
folly; who, while 

circum praecordia ludit, 

giveth us to feel how many headaches a passionate 
life bringeth us to; how, when all is done, 

Est Ulubris animus si nos non deficit aequus? 


No, perchance it is the Comic, whom naughty 
play-makers and stage-keepers have justly made 
odious. To the argument of abuse I will answer after. 
Only thus much now is to be said, that the Comedy is 
an imitation of the common errors of our life, which 
he representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful 
sort that may be, so as it is impossible that any be- 
holder can be content to be such a one. 

Now, as in Geometry the oblique must be known as 
well as the right, and in Arithmetic the odd as well as 
the even, so in the actions of our life who seeth not the 
filthiness of evil wanteth a great foil to perceive the 
beauty of virtue. This doth the Comedy handle so in 
our private and domestical matters, as with hearing it 
we get as it were an experience, what is to be looked 
for of a niggardly Demea, of a crafty Davus, of a 
flattering Gnatho, of a vainglorious Thraso ; and not 
only to know what effects are to be expected, but to 
know who be such, by the signifying badge given 
them by the comedian. And little reason hath any 
man to say that men learn evil by seeing it so set out; 
since, as I said before, there is no man living but, by 
the force truth hath in nature, no sooner seeth these 
men play their parts, but wisheth them in pislrinum; 
although perchance the sack of his own faults lie so 
behind his back that he seeth not himself dance the 
same measure; whereto yet nothing can more open 
his eyes than to find his own actions contemptibly set 

So that the right use of Comedy will (I think) by 
nobody be blamed, and much less of the high and 
excellent Tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds, 
and showeth forth the ulcers that are covered with 
tissue; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and 
tyrants manifest their tyrannical humours; that, with 
stirring the affects of admiration and commiseration, 
teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how 
weak foundations gilden roofs are builded ; that maketh 
us know. 


Qui sceptra saevus duro imperio regit, 
Timet timentes, metus in auclorem redit. 

But how much it can move, Plutarch yieldeth a nota- 
ble testimony of the abominable tyrant Alexander 
Pheraeus, from whose eyes a tragedy, well made and 
represented, drew abundance of tears, who, without 
all pity, had murdered infinite numbers, and some of 
his own blood, so as he, that was not ashamed to make 
matters for tragedies, yet could not resist the sweet 
violence of a tragedy. And if it wrought no further 
good in him, it was that he, in despite of himself, with- 
drew himself from hearkening to that which might 
mollify his hardened heart. 

But it is not the Tragedy they do mislike ; for it were 
too absurd to cast out so excellent a representation of 
whatsoever is most worthy to be learned. Is it the 
Lyric that most displeaseth, who with his tuned lyre, 
and well-accorded voice, giveth praise, the rev\ ard of 
virtue, to virtuous acts, who gives moral precepts, and 
natural problems, who sometimes raiseth up his voice 
to the height of the heavens, in singing the lauds of the 
immortal God? Certainly, I must confess my own 
barbarousness, I never heard the old song of Percy 
and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more 
than with a trumpet; and yet is it sung but by some 
blind crowder, with no rougher voice than rude style; 
which, being so evil apparelled in the dust and cob- 
webs of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed 
in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar? In Hungary I 
have seen it the manner at all feasts, and other such 
meetings, to have songs of their ancestors' valour; 
which that right soldierlike nation think the chiefest 
kindlers of brave courage. The incomparable Lace- 
demonians did not only carry that kind of music ever 
with them to the field, but even at home, as such songs 
were made, so were they all content to be the singers 
of them, when the lusty men were to tell what they 
did, the old men what they had done, and the young 
men what they would do. And where a man may say 


that Pindar many times praiseth highly victories of 
small moment, matters rather of sport than virtue; as 
it may be answered, it was the fault of the poet, and 
not of the poetry, so indeed the chief fault was in the 
time and custom of the Greeks, who set those toys at 
so high a price that Philip of Macedon reckoned a 
horserace won at Olympus among his three fearful 
felicities. But as the inimitable Pindar often did, so is 
that kind most capable and most fit to awake the 
thoughts from the sleep of idleness, to embrace 
honourable enterprises. 

There rests the Heroical, whose very name (I think) 
should daunt all backbiters; for by what conceit can 
a tongue be directed to speak evil of that which 
draweth with it no less champions than Achilles, 
Cyrus, Aeneas, Turnus, Tydeus, and Rinaldo? who 
doth not only teach and move to a truth, but teacheth 
and moveth to the most high and excellent truth; who 
maketh magnanimity and justice shine throughout all 
misty fearfulness and foggy desires ; who, if the saying 
of Plato and Tully be true, that who could see Virtue 
would be wonderfully ravished with the love of her 
beauty — this man sets her out to make her more lovely 
in her holiday apparel, to the eye of any that will 
deign not to disdain until they understand. But if any- 
thing be already said in the defence of sweet Poetry, 
all concurreth to the maintaining the Heroical, which 
is not only a kind, but the best and most accomplished 
kind of Poetry. For as the image of each action 
stirreth and instructeth the mind, so the lofty image of 
such worthies most inflameth the mind with desire 
to be worthy, and informs with counsel how to be 
worthy. Only let Aeneas be worn in the tablet of your 
memory, how he governeth himself in the ruin of his 
country, in the preserving his old father, and carrying 
away his rehgious ceremonies, in obeying the god's 
commandment to leave Dido, though not only all 
passionate kindness, but even the human considera- 
tion of virtuous gratefulness, would have craved other 


of him; how in storms, how in sports, how in war, how 
in peace, how a fugitive, how victorious, how besieged, 
how besieging, how to strangers, how to aUies, how to 
enemies, how to his own; lastly, how in his inward 
self, and how in his outward government, and I think^ 
in a mind not prejudiced with a prejudicating humour, 
he will be found in excellency fruitful, yea, even as 
Horace saith, 

Melius Chrysippo et Crantore. 

But truly I imagine it falleth out with these poet- 
whippers, as with some good women, who often are 
sick, but in faith they cannot tell where. So the name 
of Poetry is odious to them, but neither his cause nor 
effects, neither the sum that contains him nor the 
particularities descending from him, give any fast 
handle to their carping dispraise. 

Since then Poetry is of all human learning the most 
ancient and of most fatherly antiquity, as from whence 
other learnings have taken their beginnings ; since it is 
so universal that no learned nation doth despise it, nor 
no barbarous nation is without it; since both Roman 
and Greek gave divine names unto it, the one of 
'prophesying', the other of 'making', and that indeed 
that name of 'making' is fit for him, considering that 
whereas other Arts retain themselves within their 
subject, and receive, as it were, their being from it, the 
poet only bringeth his own stuff, and doth not learn 
a conceit out of a matter, but maketh matter for a 
conceit; since neither his description nor his end con- 
taineth any evil, the thing described cannot be evil; 
since his effects be so good as to teach goodness and to 
delight the learners; since therein (namely in moral 
doctrine, the chief of all knowledges) he doth not only 
far pass the historian, but, for instructing, is wellnigh 
comparable to the philosopher, and, for moving, leaves 
him behind him; since the Holy Scripture (wherein 
there is no uncleanness) hath whole parts in it poed- 
cal, and that even our Saviour Christ vouchsafed 


to use the flowers of it; since all his kinds are not 
only in their united forms but in their severed dissec- 
tions fully commendable; I think (and think I think 
rightly) the laurel crown appointed for triumphing 
captains doth worthily (of all other learnings) honour 
the poet's triumph. But because we have ears as well 
as tongues, and that the lightest reasons that niay be 
will seem to weigh greatly, if nothing be put in the 
counterbalance, let us hear, and, as well as we can, 
ponder, what objections may be made against this art, 
which may be worthy either of yielding or answering. 
First, truly I note not only in these Mysomousoi, poet- 
haters, but in all that kind of people who seek a praise 
by dispraising others, that they do prodigally spend 
a great many wandering words in quips and scoffs, 
carping and taunting at each thing, which, by sdrring 
the spleen, may stay the brain from a thorough be- 
holding the worthiness of the subject. Those kind of 
objections, as they are full of very idle easiness, since 
there is nothing of so sacred a majesty but that an 
itching tongue may rub itself upon it, so deserve they 
no other answer, but, instead of laughing at the jest, to 
laugh at the iester. We know a playing wit can praise 
the'discretion of an ass, the comfortableness of being 
in debt, and the jolly commodity of being sick of the 
plague. So of the contrary side, if we will turn Ovid's 


Ut lateat virtus proximitate mali, 

that 'good lie hid in nearness of the evil', Agrippa wiU 
be as merry in showing the vanity of Science as Eras- 
mus was in commending of folly. Neither shall any 
man or matter escape some touch of these smiling 
railers. But for Erasmus and Agrippa, they had 
another foundation than the superficial part would 
promise. Marry, these other pleasant faultfinders, 
who will correct the verb before they understand the 
noun, and confute others' knowledge before they 
confirm their own, I would have them only remember 
that scoffing cometh not of wisdom; so as the best title 


in true English they get with their merriments is to be 
called good fools, for so have our grave forefathers 
ever termed that humorous kind of jesters. 

But that which giveth greatest scope to their scorn- 
ing humours is rhyming and versing. It is already 
said (and, as I think, truly said) it is not rhyming and 
versing that maketh Poesy. One may be a poet with- 
out versing, and a versifier without poetry. But yet 
presuppose it were inseparable (as indeed it seemeth 
Scaliger judgeth) truly it were an inseparable com- 
mendation. For if Oratio next to Ratio, Speech next to 
Reason, be the greatest gift bestowed upon mortality, 
that cannot be praiseless which doth most polish that 
blessing of speech; which considers each word, not 
only (as a man may say) by his forcible quality, 
but by his best measured quantity, carrying even in 
themselves a harmony (without, perchance, number, 
measure, order, proportion be in our time grown 
odious). But lay aside the just praise it hath, by being 
the only fit speech for Music (Music, I say, the most 
divine striker of the senses), thus much is undoubtedly 
true, that if reading be foolish without remembering, 
memory being the only treasurer of knowledge, those 
words which are fittest for memory are likewise most 
convenient for knowledge. 

Now, that verse far exceedeth prose in the knitting 
up of the memory, the reason is manifest, — the words 
(besides their delight, which hath a great affinity to 
memory) being so set as one word cannot be lost but 
the whole work fails ; which accuseth itself, calleth the 
remembrance back to itself, and so most strongly con- 
firmeth it. Besides, one word so, as it were, begetting 
another, as, be it in rhyme or measured verse, by the 
former a man shall have a near guess to the follower; 
lastly, even they that have taught the art of memory 
have showed nothing so apt for it as a certain room 
divided into many places well and thoroughly known. 
Now, that hath the verse in effect perfectly, every 
word having his natural seat, which seat must needs 


make the words remembered. But what needeth more 
in a thing so known to all men? Who is it that ever 
was a scholar that doth not carry away some verses of 
Virgil, Horace, or Cato, which in his youth he learned, 
and even to his old age serve him for hourly lessons? 
But the fitness it hath for memory is notably proved by 
all delivery of Arts : wherein for the most part, from 
Grammar to Logic, Mathematic, Physic, and the rest, 
the rules chiefly necessary to be borne away are com- 
piled in verses. So that, verse being in itself sweet and 
orderly, and being best for memory, the only handle 
of knowledge, it must be in jest that any man can 
speak against it. 

Now then go we to the most important imputations 
laid to the poor poets. For aught I can yet learn, they 
are these. First, that there being many other more 
fruitful knowledges, a man might better spend his 
time in them than in this. Secondly, that it is the 
mother of lies. Thirdly, that it is the nurse of abuse, 
infecting us with many pestilent desires, with a siren's 
sweetness drawing the mind to the serpent's tale of 
sinful fancy, — and herein, especially, comedies give 
the largest field to ear (as Chaucer saith), — how both 
in other nations and in ours, before poets did soften 
us, we were full of courage, given to martial exercises, 
the pillars of manlike liberty, and not lulled asleep in 
shady idleness with poets' pastimes. And lastly, and 
chiefly, they cry out with an open mouth, as if they 
outshot Robin Hood, that Plato banished them out of 
his Commonwealth. Truly, this is much, if there be 
much truth in it. First, to the first, that a man might 
better spend his time is a reason indeed : but it doth 
(as they say) but petere principium: for if it be, as I 
affirm, that no learning is so good as that which 
teacheth and moveth to virtue, and that none can 
both teach and move thereto so much as Poetry, then 
is the conclusion manifest that ink and paper cannot 
be to a more profitable purpose employed. And 
certainly, though a man should grant their first 


assumption, it should follow (methinks) very unwill- 
ingly, that good is not good because better is better. 
But I still and utterly deny that there is sprung out of 
earth a more fruitful knowledge. To the second there- 
fore, that they should be the principal liars, I answer 
paradoxically, but truly, I think truly, that of all 
writers under the sun the poet is the least liar, and, 
though he would, as a poet can scarcely be a liar. The 
astronomer, with his cousin the geometrician, can 
hardly escape, when they take upon them to measure 
the height of the stars. How often, think you, do the 
physicians lie, when they aver things good for sick- 
nesses, which afterwards send Charon a great number 
of souls drowned in a potion before they come to his 
ferry? And no less of the rest, which take upon them 
to affirm. Now, for the poet, he nothing affirms, and 
therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie is to 
affirm that to be true which is false; so as the other 
artists, and especially the historian, affirming many 
things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, 
hardly escape from many lies. But the poet (as I said 
before) never affirmeth. The poet never maketh any 
circles about your imagination, to conjure you to be- 
lieve for true what he writes. He citeth not authorities 
of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the 
sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention ; in 
truth, not labouring to tell you what is, or is not, but 
what should or should not be. And therefore, though 
he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them 
not for true, he lieth not, — without we will say that 
Nathan lied in his speech, before alleged, to David; 
which as a wicked man durst scarce say, so think I 
none so simple would say that Aesop lied in the tales 
of his beasts : for who thinks that Aesop writ it for 
actually true were well worthy to have his name 
chronicled among the beasts he writeth of. What child 
is there that, coming to a play, and seeing Thebes 
written in great letters upon an old door, doth believe 
that it is Thebes ? If then a man can arrive, at that 
240 C 


child's age, to know that the poets' persons and doings 
are but pictures what should be, and not stories what 
have been, they will never give the lie to things not 
affirmatively but allegorically and figuratively written. 
And therefore, as in History, looking for truth, they go 
away full fraught with falsehood, so in Poesy, looking 
for fiction, they shall use the narration but as an ima- 
ginative ground-plot of a profitable invention. 

But hereto is replied, that the poets give names to 
men they write of, which argueth a conceit of an 
actual truth, and so, not being true, proves a false- 
hood. And doth the lawyer lie then, when under the 
names of 'John a Stile' and 'John a Noakes' he puts 
his case? But that is easily answered. Their naming 
of men is but to make their picture the more hvely, 
and not to build any history ; painting men, they can- 
not leave men nameless. We see we cannot play at 
chess but that we must give names to our chessmen; 
and yet, methinks, he were a very partial champion of 
truth that would say we Hed for giving a piece of wood 
the reverend title of a bishop. The poet nameth 
Cyrus or Aeneas no other way than to show what men 
of their fames, fortunes, and estates should do. 

Their third is, how much it abuseth men's wit, 
training it to wanton sinfulness and lustful love: for 
indeed that is the principal, if not the only, abuse 
I can hear alleged. They say the Comedies rather 
teach than reprehend amorous conceits. They say the 
Lyric is larded with passionate sonnets, the Elegiac 
weeps the want of his mistress, and that even to the 
Heroical Cupid hath ambitiously climbed. Alas, Love, 
I would thou couldst as well defend thyself as thou 
canst offend others. I would those on whom thou dost 
attend could either put thee away, or yield good 
reason why they keep thee. But grant love of beauty 
to be a beastly fault (although it be very hard, since 
only man, and no beast, hath that gift to discern 
beauty) ; grant that lovely name of Love to deserve all 
hateful reproaches (although even some of my masters 


the philosophers spent a good deal of their lamp-oil in 
setting forth the excellency of it) ; grant, I say, whatso- 
ever they will have granted; that not only love, but 
lust, but vanity, but (if they list) scurrility, possesseth 
many leaves of the poets' books : yet think I, when 
this is granted, they will find their sentence may with 
good manners put the last words foremost, and not say 
that Poetry abuseth man's wit, but that man's wit 
abuseth Poetry. 

For I will not deny but that man's wit may make 
Poesy, which should be Eikastike, which some learned 
have defined, 'figuring forth good things', to be Phan- 
tastike, which doth, contrariwise, infect the fancy with 
unworthy objects, as the painter, that should give to 
the eye either some excellent perspective, or some fine 
picture, fit for building or fortification, or contain- 
ing in it some notable example, as Abraham sacri- 
ficing his son Isaac, Judith killing Holofernes, David 
fighting with Goliath, may leave those, and please an 
ill-pleased eye with wanton shows of better hidden 
matters. But what, shall the abuse of a thing make the 
right use odious? Nay truly, though I yield that Poesy 
may not only be abused, but that being abused, by the 
reason of his sweet charming force, it can do more 
hurt than any other army of words, yet shall it be so 
far from concluding that the abuse should give re- 
proach to the abused, that contrariwise it is a good 
reason, that whatsoever, being abused, doth most 
harm, being rightly used (and upon the right use each 
thing conceiveth his title), doth most good. 

Do we not see the skill of Physic (the best rampire 
to our often-assaulted bodies), being abused, teach 
poison, the most violent destroyer? Doth not know- 
ledge of Law, whose end is to even and right all 
things, being abused, grow the crooked fosterer of 
horrible injuries? Doth not (to go to the highest) God's 
word abused breed heresy, and His Name abused be- 
come blasphemy? Truly, a needle cannot do much 
hurt, and as truly (with leave of ladies be it spoken) it 


cannot do much good. With a sword thou mayest kill 
thy father, and with a sword thou mayest defend thy 
prince and country. So that, as in their calling poets 
the fathers of lies they say nothing, so in this their 
argument of abuse they prove the commendation. 

They allege herewith, that before poets began to be 
in price our nation hath set their heart's delight upon 
action, and not upon imagination, rather doing things 
worthy to be written, than writing things fit to be 
done. What that before-time was, I think scarcely 
Sphinx can tell, since no memory is so ancient that 
hath the precedence of Poetry. And certain it is that, 
in our plainest homeliness, yet never was the Albion 
nation without Poetry. Marry, this argument, though 
it be levelled against Poetry, yet is it indeed a chain- 
shot against all learning, or bookishness, as they com- 
monly term it. Of such mind were certain Goths, of 
whom it is written that, having in the spoil of a famous 
city taken a fair library, one hangman, belike, fit to 
execute the fruits of their wits, who had murdered 
a great number of bodies, would have set fire on it. 
•No,' said another very gravely, 'take heed what you 
do, for while they are busy about these toys, we shall 
with more leisure conquer their countries.' 

This indeed is the ordinary doctrine of ignorance, 
and many words sometimes I have heard spent in it: 
but because this reason is generally against all learn- 
ing, as well as Poetry, or rather, all learning but 
Poetry; because it were too large a digressiori to 
handle, or at least too superfluous (since it is manifest 
that all government of action is to be gotten by know- 
ledge, and knowledge best by gathering many know- 
ledges, which is reading), I only, with Horace, to him 
that is of that opinion, 

lubeo stultum esse libenter; 

for as for Poetry itself, it is the freest from this objec- 
tion. For Poetry is the companion of the camps. 
I dare undertake, Orlando Furioso, or honest Kmg 


Arthur, will never displease a soldier : but the quiddity 
of Ens and Prima materia will hardly agree with a cors- 
let. And therefore, as I said in the beginning, even 
Turks and Tartars are delighted with poets. Homer, 
a Greek, flourished before Greece flourished. And if 
to a slight conjecture a conjecture may be opposed, 
truly it may seem, that, as by him their learned men 
took almost their first light of knowledge, so their 
active men received their first motions of courage. 
Only Alexander's example may serve, who by Plutarch 
is accounted of such virtue, that Fortune was not his 
guide but his footstool; whose acts speak for him, 
though Plutarch did not, — indeed the Phoenix of war- 
like princes. This Alexander left his schoolmaster, 
living Aristotle, behind him, but took dead Homer 
with him. He put the philosopher Callisthenes to 
death for his seeming philosophical, indeed mutinous, 
stubbornness, but the chief thing he ever was heard to 
wish for was that Homer had been alive. He well found 
he received more bravery of mind by the pattern of 
Achilles than by hearing the definition of fortitude : 
and therefore, if Cato misliked Fulvius for carrying 
Ennius with him to the field, it may be answered that, 
if Cato misliked it, the noble Fulvius liked it, or else he 
had not done it: for it was not the excellent Cato 
Uticensis (whose authority I would much more have 
reverenced), but it was the former, in truth a bitter 
punisher of faults, but else a man that had never well 
sacrificed to the Graces. He misliked and cried out 
upon all Greek learning, and yet, being 80 years old, 
began to learn it, belike fearing that Pluto understood 
not Latin. Indeed, the Roman laws allowed no per- 
son to be carried to the wars but he that was in the 
soldier's roll, and therefore, though Cato misliked his 
unmustered person, he misliked not his work. And if 
he had, Scipio Nasica, judged by common consent 
the best Roman, loved him. Both the other Scipio 
brothers, who had by their virtues no less surnames 
than of Asia and Afric, so loved him that they caused 


his body to be buried in their sepulchre. So as Cato's 
authority being but against his person, and that 
answered with so far greater than himself, is herein of 
no validity. 

But now indeed my burden is great; now Plato's 
name is laid upon me, whom, I must confess, of all 
philosophers I have ever esteemed most worthy of 
reverence, and with great reason, since of all philo- 
sophers he is the most poetical. Yet if he will defile 
the fountain out of which his flowing streams have 
proceeded, let us boldly examine with what reasons he 
did it. First truly, a man might maliciously object 
that Plato, being a philosopher, was a natural enemy 
of poets. For indeed, after the philosophers had picked 
out of the sweet mysteries of Poetry the right discern- 
ing true points of knowledge, they forthwith, putting 
it in method, and making a school art of that which 
the poets did only teach by a divine delightfulness, 
beginning to spurn at their guides, like ungrateful 
prentices, were not content to set up shops for theni- 
selves, but sought by all means to discredit their 
masters ; which by the force of delight being barred 
them, the less they could overthrow them, the more 
they hated them. For indeed, they found for Homer 
seven cities strove who should have him for their 
citizen ; where many cities banished philosophers as not 
fit members to live among them. For only repeating 
certain of Euripides' verses, many Athenians had their 
lives saved of the Syracusians, when the Athenians 
themselves thought many philosophers unworthy to 
live. Certain poets, as Simonides and Pindarus, had 
so prevailed with Hiero the First, that of a tyrant 
they made him a just king; where Plato could do so 
little with Dionysius, that he himself of a philosopher 
was made a slave. But who should do thus, I confess, 
should requite the objections made against poets widi 
like cavillation against philosophers; as likewise one 
should do that should bid one read Phaedrus or Sym- 
posium in Plato, or the discourse of love in Plutarch, 


and see whether any poet do authorize abominable 
filthiness, as they do. Again, a man might ask out of 
what Commonweahh Plato did banish them. In 
sooth, thence where he himself alloweth community of 
women. So as belike this banishment grew not for 
effeminate wantonness, since little should poetical 
sonnets be hurtful when a man might have what 
woman he listed. But I honour philosophical instruc- 
tions, and bless the wits which bred them: so as they 
be not abused, which is likewise stretched to Poetry. 
St. Paul himself, who yet, for the credit of poets, 
allegeth twice two poets, and one of them by the name 
of a prophet, setteth a watchword upon Philosophy, — 
indeed upon the abuse. So doth Plato upon the abuse, 
not upon Poetry. Plato found fault that the poets of 
his time filled the world with wrong opinions of the 
gods, making light tales of that unspotted essence, 
and therefore would not have the youth depraved 
with such opinions. Herein may much be said; let 
this suffice: the poets did not induce such opinions, 
but did imitate those opinions already induced. For 
all the Greek stories can well testify that the very 
religion of that time stood upon many and many- 
fashioned gods, not taught so by the poets, but followed 
according to their nature of imitation. Who list may 
read in Plutarch the discourses of Isis and Osiris, of 
the cause why oracles ceased, of the divine providence, 
and see whether the theology of that nation stood not 
upon such dreams which the poets indeed super- 
stitiously observed, and truly (since they had not the 
light of Christ) did much better in it than the philo- 
sophers, who, shaking off superstition, brought in 
atheism. Plato therefore (whose authority I had much 
rather justly construe than unjustly resist) meant not 
in general of poets, in those words of which Julius 
Scaliger saith. Qua authoritate barbari quidam atque hispidi 
abuti velint ad poctas e republica exigendos; but only meant 
to drive out those wrong opinions of the Deity (where- 
of now, without further law, Christianity hath taken 


away all the hurtful belief), perchance (as he thought) 
nourished by the then esteemed poets. And a man 
need go no further than to Plato himself to know his 
meaning: who, in his Dialogue called Ion, giveth high 
and rightly divine commendation to Poetry. So as 
Plato, banishing the abuse, not the thing, not banish- 
ing it, but giving due honour unto it, shall be our 
patron and not our adversary. For indeed I had much 
rather (since truly I may do it) show their mistaking 
of Plato (under whose lion's skin they would make an 
ass-like braying against Poesy) than go about to over- 
throw his authority; whom, the wiser a man is, the 
more just cause he shall find to have in admiration; 
especially since he attributeth unto Poesy more than 
myself do, namely, to be a very inspiring of a divine 
force, far above man's wit, as in the afore-named 
Dialogue is apparent. 

Of the other side, who would show the honours 
have been by the best sort of judgements granted 
them, a whole sea of examples would present them- 
selves: Alexanders, Caesars, Scipios, all favourers of 
poets ; Laelius, called the Roman Socrates, himself a 
poet, so as part of Heautonthnorumenos in Terence was 
supposed to be made by him, and even the Greek 
Socrates, whom Apollo confirmed to be the only wise 
man, is said to have spent part of his old time in put- 
ting Aesop's fables into verses. And therefore, full 
evil should it become his scholar Plato to put such 
words in his master's mouth against poets. But what 
need more? Aristotle writes the Art of Poesy: and 
why, if it should not be written? Plutarch teacheth 
the use to be gathered of them, and how, if they should 
not be read? And who reads Plutarch's either his- 
tory or philosophy, shall find he trimmeth both their 
garments with guards of Poesy. But I list not to de- 
fend Poesy with the help of her underling Historio- 
graphy. Let it suffice that it is a fit soil for praise to 
dwell upon; and what dispraise may set upon it, is 
eittier easily overcome, or transformed into just com- 


mendation. So that, since the excellencies of it may 
be so easily and so justly confirmed, and the low- 
creeping objections so soon trodden down; it not 
being an art of lies, but oft rue doctrine; not of effemi- 
nateness, but of notable stirring of courage ; not of 
abusing man's wit, but of strengthening man's wit; 
not banished, but honoured by Plato; let us rather 
plant more laurels for to engarland our poets' heads 
(which honour of being laureate, as besides them only 
triumphant captains wear, is a sufficient authority to 
show the price they ought to be had in) than suffer the 
ill-favouring breath of such wrong-speakers once to 
blow upon the clear springs of Poesy. 

But since I have run so long a career in this matter, 
methinks, before I give my pen a full stop, it shall be 
but a little more lost time to inquire why England 
(the mother of excellent minds) should be grown so 
hard a stepmother to poets, who certainly in wit ought 
to pass all other, since all only proceedeth from their 
wit, being indeed makers of themselves, not takers of 
others. How can I but exclaim, 

Alusa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso! 

Sweet Poesy, that hath anciently had kings, emperors, 
senators, great captains, such as, besides a thousand 
others, David, Adrian, Sophocles, Germanicus, not 
only to favour poets, but to be poets ; and of our nearer 
times can present for her patrons a Robert, king of 
Sicily, the great King Francis of France, King James 
of Scotland ; such cardinals as Bembus and Bibbiena : 
such famous preachers and teachers as Beza and 
Melancthon; so learned philosophers as Fracastorius 
and Scaliger ; so great orators as Pontanus and Mure- 
tus; so piercing wits as George Buchanan; so grave 
counsellors as, besides many, but before all, that 
Hospital of France, than whom (I think) that realm 
never brought forth a more accomplished judgement, 
more firmly builded upon virtue — I say these, with 
numbers of others, not only to read others' poesies, but 


to poetize for others' reading — that Poesy, thus em- 
braced in all other places, should only find in our 
time a hard welcome in England, I think the very 
earth lamenteth it, and therefore decketh our soil 
with fewer laurels than it was accustomed. For here- 
tofore poets have in England also flourished, and, 
which is to be noted, even in those times when the 
trumpet of Mars did sound loudest. And now that an 
overfaint quietness should seem to strew the house for 
poets, they are almost in as good reputation as the 
mountebanks at Venice. Truly even that, as of the 
one side it giveth great praise to Poesy, which like 
Venus (but to better purpose) hath rather be troubled 
in the net with Mars than enjoy the homely quiet of 
Vulcan ; so serves it for a piece of a reason why they 
are less grateful to idle England, which now can 
scarce endure the pain of a pen. Upon this necessarily 
followeth, that base men with servile wits undertake 
it, who think it enough if they can be rewarded of the 
printer. And so as Epaminondas is said, with the 
honour of his virtue, to have made an office, by his 
exercising it, which before was contemptible, to be- 
come highly respected, so these, no more but setting 
their names to it, by their own disgracefulness dis- 
grace the most graceful Poesy. For now, as if all the 
Muses were got with child, to bring forth bastard 
poets, without any commission they do post over the 
banks of Helicon, till they make the readers more 
weary than posthorses, while, in the meantime, they, 

Queis meliore luto finxit praecordia Titan, 

are better content to suppress the outflowing of their 
wit, than, by publishing them, to be accounted 
knights of the same order. But I that, before ever I 
durst aspire unto the dignity, am admitted into the 
company of the paper-blurrers, do find the very true 
cause of our wanting estimation is want of desert, 
taking upon us to be poets in despite of Pallas. Now, 
wherein we want desert were a thankworthy labour to 


express : but if I knew, I should have mended myself. 
But I, as I never desired the title, so have I neglected 
the means to come by it. Only, overmastered by some 
thoughts, I yielded an inky tribute unto them. Marry, 
they that delight in Poesy itself should seek to know 
what they do, and how they do, and, especially, look 
themselves in an unflattering glass of reason, if they 
be inclinable unto it. For Poesy must not be drawn 
by the ears; it must be gently led, or rather it must 
lead; which was partly the cause that made the 
ancient-learned affirm it was a divine gift, and no 
human skill ; since all other knowledges lie ready for 
any that hath strength of wit ; a poet no industry can 
make, if his own genius be not carried unto it ; and 
therefore is it an old proverb. Orator fit, Poeta nascitur. 
Yet confess I always that as the fertilest ground must 
be manured, so must the highest-flying wit have a 
Daedalus to guide him. That Daedalus, they say, 
both in this and in other, hath three wings to bear it- 
self up into the air of due commendation: that is, Art, 
Imitation, and Exercise. But these, neither artificial 
rules nor imitative patterns, we much cumber our- 
selves withal. Exercise indeed we do, but that very 
fore-backwardly : for where we should exercise to 
know, we exercise as having known: and so is our 
brain delivered of much matter which never was be- 
gotten by knowledge. For, there being two principal 
parts — matter to be expressed by words and words to 
express the matter — in neither we use Art or Imita- 
tion rightly. Our matter is Quodlibet indeed, though 
wrongly performing Ovid's verse, 

Quicquid conabar dicere, versus erat : 

never marshalling it into an assured rank, that almost 
the readers cannot tell where to find themselves. 

Chaucer, undoubtedly, did excellently in his 
Troilus and Cressida; of whom, truly, I know not 
whether to marvel more, either that he in that misty 
time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age 


walk so stumblingly after him. Yet had he great 
wants, fit to be forgiven in so reverent antiquity. I 
account the Mirrour of Magistrates meetly furnished of 
beautiful parts, and in the Earl of Surrey's Lyrics 
many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of 
a noble mind. The Shepheard's Calendar hath much 
poetry in his Eclogues, indeed worthy the reading, 
if I be not deceived. That same framing of his style 
to an old rustic language I dare not allow, since 
neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor 
Sannazzaro in Italian did affect it. Besides these, do 
I not remember to have seen but few (to speak 
boldly) printed, that have poetical sinews in them : for 
proof \\hereof, let but most of the verses be put in 
prose, and then ask the meaning; and it will be found 
that one verse did but beget another, without order- 
ing at the first what should be at the last ; which be- 
comes a confused mass of words, with a tingling sound 
of rhyme, barely accompanied with reason. 

Our Tragedies and Comedies (not without cause 
cried out against), observing rules neither of honest 
civility nor of skilful Poetry, excepting Gorboduc 
(again, I say, of those that I have seen), which not- 
withstanding, as it is full of stately speeches and well- 
sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca's 
style, and as full of notable morality, which it doth 
most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of 
Poesy, yet in truth it is very defectious in the circum- 
stances, which grieveth me, because it might not 
remain as an exact model of all Tragedies. For it is 
faulty both in place and time, the two necessary com- 
panions of all corporal actions. For where the stage 
should always represent but one place, and the utter- 
most time presupposed in it should be, both by Aris- 
totle's precept and common reason, but one day, there 
is both many days, and many places, inartificially 
imagined. But if it be so in Gorboduc, how much more 
in all the rest, where you shall have Asia of the one 
side, and Afric of the other, and so many other under- 


kingdoms, that the player, when he cometh in, must 
ever begin with telling where he is, or else the talc 
will not be conceived? Now ye shall have three ladies 
walk to gather flowers and then we must believe the 
stage to be a garden. By and by we hear news of ship- 
wreck in the same place, and then we are to blame if 
we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that 
comes out a hideous monster, with fire and smoke, 
and then the miserable beholders are bound to take 
it for a cave. While in the meantime two armies fly 
in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and 
then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched 
field? Now, of time they are much more liberal, for 
ordinary it is that two young princes fall in love. 
After many traverses, she is got with child, delivered 
of a fair boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falls in love, 
and is ready to get another child; and all this in two 
hours' space: which, how absurd it is in sense, even 
sense may imagine, and Art hath taught, and all 
ancient examples justified, and, at this day, the ordi- 
nary players in Italy will not err in. Yet will some 
bring in an example of Eunuchus in Terence, that 
containeth matter of two days, yet far short of twenty 
years. True it is, and so was it to be played in two 
days, and so fitted to the time it set forth. And 
though Plautus hath in one place done amiss, let us 
hit with him, and not miss with him. But they will 
say. How then shall we set forth a story, which con- 
taineth both many places and many times? And do 
they not know that a Tragedy is tied to the laws of 
Poesy, and not of History; not bound to follow the 
story, but, having liberty, either to feign a quite new 
matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical 
conveniency? Again, many things may be told which 
cannot be showed, if they know the difference be- 
twixt reporting and representing. As, for example, 
I may speak (though I am here) of Peru, and in speech 
digress from that to the description of Calicut; but in 
action I cannot represent it without Pacolet's horse. 


And so was the manner the ancients took, by some 
Nuncius to recount things done in former time or 
other place. Lastly, if they will represent an history, 
they must not (as Horace saith) begin ab ovo, but they 
must come to the principal point of that one action 
which they will represent. By example this will be 
best expressed. I have a story of young Polydorus, 
delivered for safety's sake, with great riches, by his 
father Priam to Polymnestor, king of Thrace, in the 
Trojan war time. He, after some years, hearing the 
overthrow of Priam, for to make the treasure his own, 
murdereth the child. The body of the child is taken 
up by Hecuba. She, the same day, findeth a slight 
to be revenged most cruelly of the tyrant. Where now 
would one of our tragedy writers begin, but with the 
delivery of the child? Then should he sail over into 
Thrace, and so spend I know not how many years, 
and travel numbers of places. But where doth Euri- 
pides? Even with the finding of the body, leaving the 
rest to be told by the spirit of Polydorus. This need 
no further to be enlarged; the dullest wit may con- 
ceive it. 

But besides these gross absurdities, how all their 
plays be neither right tragedies, nor right comedies, 
mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter 
so carrieth it, but thrust in clowns by head and 
shoulders, to play a part in majestical matters, with 
neither decency nor discretion, so as neither the ad- 
miration and commiseration, nor the right sportful- 
ness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained. I 
know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing 
recounted with space of time, not represented in one 
moment: and I know the ancients have one or two 
examples of tragi-comedies, as Plautus hath Amphi- 
irio. But, if we mark them well, we shall find, that 
they never, or very daintily, match hornpipes and 
funerals. So falleth it out that, having indeed no 
right comedy, in that comical part of our tragedy we 
have nothing but scurrility, unworthy of any chaste 


ears, or iome extreme show of doltishness, indeed fit 
to lift up a loud laughter, and nothing else : where the 
whole tract of a comedy should be full of delight, as 
the tragedy should be still maintained in a well-raised 
admiration. But our comedians think there is no 
delight without laughter; which is very wrong, for 
though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh 
it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause 
of laughter ; but well may one thing breed both to- 
gether. Nay, rather in themselves they have, as it 
were, a kind of contrariety : for delight we scarcely do 
but in things that have a conveniency to ourselves or 
to the general nature: laughter almost ever cometh 
of things most disproportioned to ourselves and 
nature. Delight hath a joy in it, either permanent or 
present. Laughter hath only a scornful tickling. For 
example, we are ravished with delight to see a fair 
woman, and yet are far from being moved to laughter. 
We laugh at deformed creatures, wherein certainly 
we cannot delight. We delight in good chances, we 
laugh at mischances ; we delight to hear the happiness 
of our friends, or country, at which he were worthy 
to be laughed at that would laugh. We shall, con- 
trarily, laugh sometimes to find a matter quite mis- 
taken and go down the hill against the bias, in the 
mouth of some such men, as for the respect of them 
one shall be heartily sorry, yet he cannot choose but 
laugh; and so is rather pained than delighted with 
laughter. Yet deny I not but that they may go well 
together. For as in Alexander's picture well set out 
we delight without laughter, and in twenty mad an- 
tics we laugh without delight, so in Hercules, painted 
with his great beard and furious countenance, in 
woman's attire, spinning at Omphale's command- 
ment, it breedeth both delight and laughter. For the 
representing of so strange a power in love procureth 
delight: and the scornfulness of the action stirreth 
laughter. But I speak to this purpose, that all the end 
of the comical part be not upon such scornful matters 


as stirreth laughter only, but, mixed with it, that de- 
lightful teaching which is the end of Poesy. And the 
great fault even in that point of laughter, and for- 
bidden plainly by Aristotle, is that they stir laughter 
in sinful things, which are rather execrable than ridicu- 
lous; or in miserable, which are rather to be pitied 
than scorned. For what is it to make folks gape at a 
wretched beggar, or a beggarly clown ; or, against law 
of hospitality, to jest at strangers, because they speak 
not English so well as we do? What do we learn, 
since it is certain 

.A^tY habet infelix paupertas durius in se, 
Quam quod ridicules homines facit? 

But rather a busy loving courtier, a heartless threat- 
ening Thraso, a self-wise-seeming schoolmaster, an 
awry-transformed traveller — these if we saw walk in 
stage names, which we play naturally, therein were 
delightful laughter, and teaching delightfulness : as 
in the other, the tragedies of Buchanan do justly bring 
forth a divine admiration. But I have lavished out too 
many words of this play matter. I do it because, as 
they are excelling parts of Poesy, so is there none so 
much used in England, and none can be more piti- 
fully abused; which, like an unmannerly daughter 
showing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesy's 
honesty to be called in question. 

Other sorts of Poetry almost have we none, but 
that lyrical kind of songs and sonnets : which, Lord, 
if He gave us so good minds, how well it might be 
employed, and with how heavenly fruit, both private 
and public, in singing the praises of the immortal 
beauty, the immortal goodness of that God who 
giveth us hands to write and wits to conceive; of 
which we might well want words, but never matter; 
of which we could turn our eyes to nothing, but we 
should ever have new budding occasions. But truly 
many of such writings as come under the banner of 
unresistible love, if I were a mistress, would never 


persuade me they were in love; so coldly they apply 
fiery speeches, as men that had rather read lovers' 
writings, and so caught up certain swelling phrases 
(which hang together like a man which once told me 
the wind was at north-west, and by south, because he 
would be sure to name winds enough), than that in 
truth they feel those passions, which easily (as I think) 
may be betrayed by that same forcibleness or Energia 
(as the Greeks call it) of the writer. But let this be a 
sufficient though short note, that we miss the right 
use of the material point of Poesy. 

Now, for the outside of it, which is words, or (as 
I may term it) Diction, it is even well worse. So is 
that honey-flowing matron Eloquence apparelled, or 
rather disguised, in a courtesan-like painted affecta- 
tion: one time with so far-fetched words, they may 
seem monsters, but must seem strangers, to any poor 
Englishman; another time, with coursing of a letter, 
as if they were bound to follow the method of a 
dictionary; another time, with figures and flowers, 
extremely winter-starved. But I would this fault were 
only peculiar to versifiers, and had not as large pos- 
session among prose-printers, and (which is to be mar- 
velled) among many scholars, and (which is to be 
pitied) among some preachers. Truly I could wish, 
if at least I might be so bold to wish in a thing beyond 
the reach of my capacity, the diligent imitators of 
Tully and Demosthenes (most worthy to be imitated) 
did not so much keep Nizolian paper-books of their 
figures and phrases, as by attentive translation (as it 
were) devour them whole, and make them whoUy 
theirs. For now they cast sugar and spice upon every 
dish that is served to the table, like those Indians, not 
content to wear earrings at the fit and natural place of 
the ears, but they will thrust jewels through their nose 
and lips, because they will be sure to be fine. Tully, 
when he was to drive out Catiline, as it were with a 
thunderbolt of eloquence, often used that figure of repe- 
tition, Vivit. Vivit ? Imo in Senatum venit, &c. Indeed, 


inflamed with a well-grounded rage, he would have 
his words (as it were) double out of his mouth, and so 
do that artificially which we see men do in choler 
naturally. And we, having noted the grace of those 
words, hale them in sometime to a familiar epistle, 
when it were too much choler to be choleric. 

Now for similitudes in certain printed discourses, 
I think all Herberists, all stories of beasts, fowls, and 
fishes are rifled up, that they come in multitudes to 
wait upon any of our conceits ; which certainly is as 
absurd a surfeit to the ears as is possible : for the force 
of a similitude not being to prove anything to a con- 
trary disputer, but only to explain to a willing hearer; 
when that is done, the rest is a most tedious prattling, 
rather over-swaying the memory from the purpose 
whereto they were applied, than any whit informing 
the judgement, already either satisfied, or by simili- 
tudes not to be satisfied. For my part, I do not doubt, 
when Antonius and Crassus, the great forefathers of 
Cicero in eloquence, the one (as Cicero testifieth of 
them) pretended not to know art, the other not to set 
by it, because with a plain sensibleness they might 
win credit of popular ears ; which credit is the nearest 
step to persuasion; which persuasion is the chief mark 
of Oratory — I do not doubt (I say) that but they used 
these knacks very sparingly; which, who doth gener- 
ally use, any man may see doth dance to his own 
music ; and so be noted by the audience more careful 
to speak curiously than to speak truly. 

Undoubtedly (at least to my opinion undoubtedly) 
I have found in divers small-learned courtiers a more 
sound style than in some professors of learning: of 
which I can guess no other cause, but that the cour- 
tier, following that which by practice he findeth 
fittest to nature, therein (though he know it not) 
doth according to Art, though not by Art: where the 
other, using Art to show Art, and not to hide Art (as 
in these cases he should do), flieth from nature, and 
indeed abuseth Art, 


But what? Methinks I deserve to be pounded for 
straying from Poetry to Oratory : but both have such 
an affinity in this wordish consideration, that I think 
this digression will make my meaning receive the 
fuller understanding — which is not to take upon me 
to teach poets how they should do, but only, finding 
myself sick among the rest, to show some one or two 
spots of the common infection grown among the most 
part of writers : that, acknowledging ourselves some- 
what awry, we may bend to the right use both of 
matter and manner; whereto our language giveth us 
great occasion, being indeed capable of any excellent 
exercising of it. I know some will say it is a mingled 
language. And why not so much the better, taking 
the best of both the other? Another will say it want- 
eth grammar. Nay truly, it hath that praise, that it 
wanteth not grammar: for grammar it might have, 
but it needs it not; being so easy of itself, and so void 
of those cumbersome differences of cases, genders, 
moods, and tenses, which I think was a piece of the 
Tower of Babylon's curse, that a man should be put 
to school to learn his mother-tongue. But for the 
uttering sweetly and properly the conceits of the 
mind, which is the end of speech, that hath it equally 
with any other tongue in the world : and is particu- 
larly happy in compositions of two or three words 
together, near the Greek, far beyond the Latin : which 
is one of the greatest beauties can be in a language. 

Now, of versifying there are two sorts, the one 
ancient, the other modern: the ancient marked the 
quantity of each syllable, and according to that 
framed his verse ; the modern observing only number 
(with some regard of the accent), the chief life of it 
standeth in that like sounding of the words, which we 
call rhyme. Whether of these be the most excellent, 
would bear many speeches. The ancient (no doubt) 
more fit for music, both words and tune observing 
quantity, and more fit lively to express divers passions, 
by the low and lofty sound of the well-weighed syllable. 


The latter likewise, with his rhyme, striketh a 
certain music to the ear: and, in fine, since it doth 
delight, though by another way, it obtains the same 
purpose : there being in either sweetness, and wanting 
in neither majesty. Truly the English, before any 
other vulgar language I know, is fit for both sorts : for, 
for the ancient, the Italian is so fiiU of vowels that it 
must ever be cumbered with elisions ; the Dutch so, of 
the other side, with consonants, that they cannot 
yield the sweet sliding fit for a verse; the French, in 
his whole language, hath not one word that hath his 
accent in the last syllable saving two, called Antepen- 
ultima; and little more hath the Spanish: and, there- 
fore, very gracelessly may they use dactyls. The 
English is subject to none of these defects. 

Now, for the rhyme, though we do not observe 
quantity, yet we observe the accent very precisely: 
which other languages either cannot do, or will not 
do so absolutely. That caesura, or breathing place in 
the midst of the verse, neither Italian nor Spanish 
have, the French, and we, never almost fail of. Lastly, 
even the very rhyme itself the Italian cannot put in 
the last syllable, by the French named the 'masculine 
rhyme', but still in the next to the last, which the 
French call the 'female', or the next before that, which 
the Italians term sdrucciola. The example of the 
former is buono : suono, of the sdrucciola, femina : semina. 
The French, of the other side, hath both the male, as 
bon : son, and the female, as plaise : taise, but the 
sdrucciola he hath not: where the English hath all 
three, as due : true, father : rather, motion : potion, with 
much more which might be said, but that I find 
already the triflingness of this discourse is much too 
much enlarged. 

So that since the ever-praiseworthy Poesy is full of 
virtue-breeding delightful ness, and void of no gift 
that ought to be in the noble name of learning ; since 
the blames laid against it are either false or feeble; 
since the cause why it is not esteemed in England is 


the fault of poet-apes, not poets; since, lastly, our 
tongue is most fit to honour Poesy, and to be honoured 
by Poesy; I conjure you all that have had the evil 
luck to read this ink-wasting toy of mine, even in the 
name of the Nine Muses, no more to scorn the sacred 
mysteries of Poesy, no more to laugh at the name of 
'poets', as though they were next inheritors to fools, 
no more to jest at the reverent title of a 'rhymer' ; but 
to believe, with Aristotle, that they were the ancient 
treasurers of the Grecians' Divinity; to believe, with 
Bembus, that they were first bringers-in of all civility; 
to believe, with Scaliger, that no philosopher's pre- 
cepts can sooner make you an honest man than 
the reading of Virgil; to believe, with Clauserus, the 
translator of Cornutus, that it pleased the heavenly 
Deity, by Hesiod and Homer, under the veil of fables, 
to give us all knowledge, Logic, Rhetoric, Philosophy, 
natural and moral, and Quid non ? ; to believe, with 
me, that there are many mysteries contained in 
Poetry, which of purpose were written darkly, lest 
by profane wits it should be abused; to believe, with 
Landino, that they are so beloved of the gods that 
whatsoever they write proceeds of a divine fury; 
lastly, to believe themselves, when they tell you they 
will make you immortal by their verses. 

Thus doing, your name shall flourish in the prin- 
ters' shops ; thus doing, you shall be of kin to many a 
poetical preface; thus doing, you shall be most fair, 
most rich, most wise, most all; you shall dwell upon 
superlatives. Thus doing, though you be libertino 
patre natus, you shall suddenly grow Herculea proles, 

Si quid mea carmina possunt. 

Thus doing, your soul shall be placed with Dante's 
Beatrix, or Virgil's Anchises. But if (fie of such a but) 
you be born so near the dull-making cataract of Nilus 
that you cannot hear the planet-like music of Poetry, 
if you have so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot 
lift itself up to look to the sky of Poetry, or rather, by 


a certain rustical disdain, will become such a Mome 
as to be a Momus of Poetry ; then, though I will not 
wish unto you the ass's ears of Midas, nor to be driven 
by a poet's verses (as Bubonax was) to hang himself, 
nor to be rhymed to death, as is said to be done in 
Ireland ; yet thus much curse I must send you, in the 
behalf of all poets, that while you live, you live in 
love, and never get favour for lacking skill of a Son- 
net, and, when you die, your memory die from the 
earth for want of an Epitaph. 





THERE is no writing too brief that, without ob- 
scurity, comprehends the intent of the writer. 
These my late observations in English Poesy I have 
thus briefly gathered, that they might prove the less 
troublesome in perusing, and the more apt to be 
retained in memory. And I will first generally handle 
the nature of Numbers. Number is discreta quantitas: 
so that when we speak simply of number, we intend 
only the dissevered quantity; but when we speak of 
a poem written in number, we consider not only the 
distinct number of the syllables, but also their value, 
which is contained in the length or shortness of their 
sound. As in Music we do not say a strain of so many 
notes, but so many semibreves (though sometimes 
there are no more notes than semibreves), so in a 
verse the numeration of the syllables is not so much 
to be observed as their weight and due proportion. 
In joining of words to harmony there is nothing more 
offensive to the ear than to place a long syllable with 
a short note, or a short syllable with a long note, 
though in the last the vowel often bears it out. The 
world is made by symmetry and proportion, and is 
in that respect compared to Music, and Music to 
Poetry : for Terence saith, speaking of poets, artem qui 
tractant musicam, confounding Music and Poesy together. 
What music can there be where there is no proportion 
observed? Learning first flourished in Greece; from 
whence it was derived unto the Romans, both diligent 


observers of the number and quantity of syllables, 
not in their verses only but likewise in their prose. 
Learning, after the declining of the Roman Empire 
and the pollution of their language through the con- 
quest of the Barbarians, lay most pitifully deformed 
till the time of Erasmus, Reuchlin, Sir Thomas More, 
and other learned men of that age, who brought the 
Latin tongue again to light, redeeming it with much 
labour out of the hands of the illiterate monks and 
friars: as a scoffing book, entitled Epistolae obscurorum 
virorum, may sufficiently testify. In those lack-learning 
times, and in barbarized Italy, began that vulgar and 
easy kind of Poesy which is now in use throughout 
most parts of Christendom, which we abusively call 
Rhyme and Metre, of Rithmus and Metrum, of which 
I wdll now discourse. 


I am not ignorant that whosoever shall by way of 
reprehension examine the imperfections of Rhyme 
must encounter with many glorious enemies, and 
those very expert and ready at their weapon, that 
can if need be extempore (as they say) rhyme a nian 
to death. Besides, there is grown a kind of prescription 
in the use of Rhyme, to forestall the right of true 
numbers, as also the consent of many nations, against 
all which it may seem a thing almost impossible and 
vain to contend. All this and more cannot yet deter 
me from a lawful defence of perfection, or make me 
any whit the sooner adhere to that which is lame and 
unbeseeming. For custom I allege that ill uses are to 
be abolished, and that things naturally imperfect can- 
not be perfected by use. Old customs, if they be better, 
why should they not be recalled, as the yet flourishing 
custom of numerous poesy used among the Romans 
and Grecians? But the unaptness of our tongues and 
the difficulty of imitation disheartens us : again, the 


facility and popularity of Rhyme creates as many 
poets as a hot summer flies. 

But let me now examine the nature of that which 
we call Rhyme. By Rhyme is understood that which 
ends in the like sound, so that verses in such manner 
composed yield but a continual repetition of that 
rhetorical figure which we term similiter desinentia, and 
that, being but figura verbi, ought (as Tully and all 
other rhetoricians have judicially observed) sparingly 
to be used, lest it should offend the ear with tedious 
affectation. Such was that absurd following of the 
letter amongst our English so much of late affected, 
but now hissed out of Paul's Churchyard: which 
foolish figurative repetition crept also into the Latin 
tongue, as it is manifest in the book of P's called 
praelia porcorum, and another pamphlet all of F's which 
I have seen imprinted. But I will leave these follies 
to their own ruin, and return to the matter intended. 
The ear is a rational sense and a chief judge of 
proportion ; but in our kind of rhyming what propor- 
tion is there kept where there remains such a confused 
inequality of syllables? Iambic and trochaic feet, 
which are opposed by nature, are by all rhymers 
confounded ; nay, oftentimes they place instead of an 
iambic the foot Pyrrhichius, consisting of two short 
syllables, curtailing their verse, which they supply in 
reading with a ridiculous and unapt drawing of their 
speech. As for example: 

Was it my destiny, or dismal chance? 

In this verse the two last syllables of the word 'destiny', 
being both short, and standing for a whole foot in the 
verse, cause the line to fall out shorter than it ought 
by nature. The like impure errors have in time of 
rudeness been used in the Latin tongue, as the Carmina 
proverbialia can witness, and many other such reverend 
baubles. But the noble Grecians and Romans, whose 
skilful monuments outlive barbarism, tied themselves 
to the strict observation of poetical numbers, so 


abandoning the childish titillation of rhyming that it 
was imputed a great error to Ovid for setting forth 
this one rhyming verse, 

Quot caelum Stellas tot habet tua Roma puellas. 

For the establishing of this argument, what better 
confirmation can be had than that of Sir Thomas 
More in his book of Epigrams, where he makes two 
sundry epitaphs upon the death of a singing man at 
Westminster, the one in learned numbers and disliked, 
the other in rude rhyme and highly extolled : so that 
he concludes, tales lactucas talia labra petunt, like lips 
like lettuce. 

But there is yet another fault in Rhyme altogether 
intolerable, which is, that it enforceth a man often- 
times to abjure his matter and extend a short conceit 
beyond all bounds of art; for in quatorzains, methinks, 
the poet handles his subject as tyrannically as Pro- 
crustes the thief his prisoners, whom, when he had 
taken, he used to cast upon a bed which if they were 
too short to fill, he would stretch them longer, if too 
long, he would cut them shorter. Bring before me 
now any the most self-loved rhymer, and let me see if 
without blushing he be able to read his lame halting 
rhymes. Is there not a curse of nature laid upon such 
rude Poesy, when the writer is himself ashamed of it, 
and the hearers in contempt call it rhyming and 
ballading? What divine in his sermon, or grave 
counsellor in his oration, will allege the testimony of a 
rhyme? But the divinity of the Romans and Grecians 
was all written in verse; and Aristotle, Galen, and 
the books of all the excellent philosophers are full of 
the testimonies of the old poets. By them was laid the 
foundation of all human wisdom, and from them the 
knowledge of all antiquity is derived. I will propound 
but one question, and so conclude this point. If the 
Italians, Frenchmen, and Spaniards, that with com- 
mendation have written in rhyme, were demanded 
whether they had rather the books they have published 


(if their tongue would bear it) should remain as they 
are in rhyme or be translated into the ancient numbers 
of the Greeks and Romans, would they not answer, 
Into numbers? What honour were it then for our 
English language to be the first that after so many 
years of barbarism could second the perfection of the 
industrious Greeks and Romans? Which how it may 
be effected I will now proceed to demonstrate. 


There are but three feet which generally distinguish 
the Greek and Latin verses, the Dactyl, consisting of 
one long syllable and two short, as vlvere ; the Trochee, 
of one long and one short, as vita; and the Iambic, 
of one short and one long, as amor. The Spondee of 
two long, the Tribrach of three short, the Anapaestic 
of two short and a long, are but as servants to the first. 
Divers other feet I know are by the Grammarians 
cited, but to little purpose. The Heroical Verse that 
is distinguished by the dactyl hath been oftentimes 
attempted in our English tongue, but with passing 
pitiful success ; and no wonder, seeing it is an attempt 
altogether against the nature of our language. For 
both the concourse of our monosyllables make our 
verses unapt to slide, and also, if we examine our 
polysyllables, we shall find few of them, by reason of 
their heaviness, willing to serve in place of a dactyl. 
Thence it is that the writers of English heroics do so 
often repeat Amyntas, Olympus, Avernus, Erinnis, and 
suchlike borrowed words, to supply the defect of our 
hardly entreated dactyl. I could in this place set 
down many ridiculous kinds of dactyls which they 
use, but that it is not my purpose here to incite men 
to laughter. If we therefore reject the dactyl as unfit 
for our use (which of necessity we are enforced to do), 
there remain only the iambic foot, of which the iambic 
verse is framed, and the trochee, from which the 


trochaic numbers have their original. Let us now 
then examine the property of these two feet, and try 
if they consent with the nature of our EngHsh syllables. 
And first for the iambics, they fall out so naturally in 
our tongue, that, if we examine our own writers, we 
shall find they unawares hit oftentimes upon the true 
iambic numbers, but always aim at them as far as 
their ear without the guidance of art can attain unto, 
as it shall hereafter more evidently appear. The 
trochaic foot, which is but an iambic turned over and 
over, must of force in like manner accord in proportion 
with our British syllables, and so produce an English 
trochaical verse. Then having these two principal 
kinds of verses, we may easily out of them derive 
other forms, as the Latins and Greeks before us have 



[? 1603] 


THE general custom and use of Rhyme in this 
kingdom, noble lord, having been so long (as if 
from a grant of Nature) held unquestionable, made 
me to imagine that it lay altogether out of the way 
of contradiction, and was become so natural, as we 
should never have had a thought to cast it off into 
reproach, or be made to think that it ill became our 
language. But now I see, when there is opposition 
made to all things in the world by words, we must 
now at length likewise fall to contend for words them- 
selves, and make a question whether they be right or 
not. For we are told how that our measures go wrong, 
all rhyming is gross, vulgar, barbarous; which if it 
be so, we have lost much labour to no purpose; and, 
for mine own particular, I cannot but blame the 
fortune of the times and mine own genius, that cast 
me upon so wrong a course, drawn with the current 
of custom and an unexamined example. Having been 
first encouraged or framed thereunto by your most 
worthy and honourable mother, and receiving the 
first notion for the formal ordering of those composi- 
tions at Wilton — which I must ever acknowledge to 
have been my best school, and thereof always am to 
hold a feeling and grateful memory — , afterward 
drawn farther on by the well liking and approbation 
of my worthy lord, the fosterer of me and my Muse; 
I adventured to bestow all my whole powers therein, 
perceiving it agreed so well, both with the complexion 
of the times and mine own constitution, as I found 
not wherein I might better employ me. But yet now, 
upon the great discovery of these new measures. 


threatening to overthrow the whole state of Rhyme 
in this kingdom, I must either stand out to defend, 
or else be forced to forsake myself and give over all. 
And though irresolution and a self-distrust be the 
most apparent faults of my nature, and that the least 
check of reprehension, if it savour of reason, will as 
easily shake my resolution as any man's living ; yet in 
this case I know not ho-w I am grown more resolved, 
and, before I sink, willing to examine what those 
powers of judgement are that must bear me down and 
beat me off from the station of my profession, which 
by the law of nature I am set to defend. And the 
rather for that this detractor (whose commendable 
rhymes, albeit now himself an enemy to Rhyme, have 
given heretofore to the world the best notice of his 
worth) is a man of fair parts and good reputation; 
and therefore the reproach forcibly cast from such a 
hand may throw down more at once than the labours 
of many shall in long time build up again, specially 
upon the slippery foundation of opinion, and the 
world's inconstancy, which knows not well what it 
would have, and 

Discit enim citius meminitque libentius illud 
Quod quis deridet, quam quod probat et veneratur. 

And he who is thus become our unkind adversary 
must pardon us if we be as jealous of our fame and 
reputation as he is desirous of credit by his new-old 
art, and must consider that we cannot, in a thing that 
concerns us so near, but have a feeling of the wrong 
done, wherein every rhymer in this universal island, 
as well as myself, stands interested. So that if his 
charity had equally drawn with his learning, he 
would have forborne to procure the en\7 of so power- 
ful a number upon him, from whom he cannot but 
expect the return of a like measure of blame, and only 
have made way to his own grace by the proof of his 
ability, without the disparaging of us, who would 
have been glad to have stood quietly by him, and 


perhaps commended his adventure; seeing that ever- 
more of one science another be may born, and that these 
saUies made out of the quarter of our set knowledges 
are the gallant proffers only of attemptive spirits, and 
commendable, though they work no other effect than 
make a bravado : and I know it were Indecens et morosum 
nimis alienae indmtriae modum ponere. 

We could well have allowed of his numbers, had he 
not disgraced our Rhyme, which both custom and 
nature doth most powerfully defend: custom that is 
before all law, nature that is above all art. Every 
language hath her proper number or measure fitted 
to use and delight, which custom, entertaining by the 
allowance of the ear, doth endenize and make natural. 
All verse is but a frame of words confined within 
certain measure, differing from the ordinary speech, 
and introduced the better to express men's conceits, 
both for delight and memory. Which frame of words 
consisting of rhythmics or metrum, number or measure, 
are disposed into divers fashions, according to the 
humour of the composer and the set of the time. And 
these rhythmi, as Aristotle saith, are familiar amongst 
all nations, and e naturali et sponte fusa compositione : 
and they fall as naturally already in our language as 
ever art can make them, being such as the ear of 
itself doth marshal in their proper rooms; and they 
of themselves will not willingly be put out of their 
rank, and that in such a verse as best comports with 
the nature of our language. And for our Rhyme 
(which is an excellency added to this work of measure, 
and a harmony far happier than any proportion 
antiquity could ever shew us) doth add more grace, 
and hath more of delight than ever bare numbers, 
howsoever they can be forced to run in our slow 
language, can possibly yield. Which, whether it be 
derived of rhythmus or of romance, which were songs 
the Bards and Druids about rhymes used, and thereof 
were called Remensi, as some Italians hold, or how- 
soever, it is likewise number and harmony of words, 


consisting of an agreeing sound in the last syllables 
of several verses, giving both to the ear an echo of a 
delightful report, and to the memory a deeper im- 
pression of vi'hat is delivered therein. For as Greek 
and Latin verse consists of the number and quantity 
of syllables, so doth the English verse of measure and 
accent. And though it doth not strictly observe long 
and short syllables, yet it most religiously respects the 
accent; and as the short and the long make number, 
so the acute and grave accent yield harmony. And 
harmony is likewise number; so that the English verse 
then hath number, measure, and harmony in the best 
proportion of music. Which, being more certam and 
more resounding, works that effect of motion with as 
happy success as either the Greek or Latin. And so 
natural a melody is it, and so universal, as it seems to 
be generally born with all the nations of the world as 
an hereditary eloquence proper to all mankind. The 
universality argues the general power of it: for if 
the barbarian use it, then it shews that it sways the 
affection of the barbarian; if civil nations practise it, 
it proves that it works upon the hearts of civil nations; 
if all, then that it hath a power in nature on all. 
Georgeviez, De Turcarum Moribus, hath an example of 
the Turkish rhymes just of the measure of our verse 
of eleven syllables, in feminine rhyme; never begotten, 
I am persuaded, by any example in Europe, but born 
no doubt in Scythia, and brought over Caucasus and 
Mount Taurus. The Sclavonian and Arabian tongues 
acquaint a great part of Asia and Africa with it; the 
Moscovite, Polack, Hungarian, German, Italian, 
French, and Spaniard use no other harmony of words. 
The Irish, Briton, Scot, Dane, Saxon, English, and all 
the inhabiters of this island either have hither brought 
or here found the same in use. And such a force hath 
it in nature, or so made by nature, as the Latm 
numbers, notwithstanding their excellence, seemed 
not sufficient to satisfy the ear of the world thereunto 
accustomed, without this harmonical cadence : which 


made the most learned of all nations labour with 
exceeding travail to bring those numbers likewise unto 
it; which many did with that happiness as neither 
their purity of tongue nor their material contempla- 
tions are thereby any way disgraced, but rather 
deserve to be reverenced of all grateful posterity, with 
the due regard of their worth. And for Schola Salerna, 
and those Carmina proverbialia, who finds not therein 
more precepts for use, concerning diet, health, and 
conversation, than Cato, Theognis, or all the Greeks 
and Latins can show us in that kind of teaching? 
and that in so few words, both for delight to the ear 
and the hold of memory, as they are to be embraced 
of all modest readers that study to know and not to 

Methinks it is a strange imperfection that men should 
thus overrun the estimation of good things with so 
violent a censure, as though it must please none else 
because it likes not them: whereas Oportet arbitratores 
esse non contradictores eos qui verum indicaturi sunt, saith 
Aristotle, though he could not observe it himself. And 
mild charity tells us: 

-Non ego paucis 

Offender maculis quas aut incuriafudit 
Aut humana parum cavit natura. 

For all men have their errors, and we must take the 
best of their powers, and leave the rest as not apper- 
taining unto us. 

'Ill customs are to be left.' I grant it; but I see not 
how that can be taken for an ill custom which nature 
hath thus ratified, all nations received, time so long 
confirmed, the effects such as it performs those offices 
of motion for which it is employed; delighting the ear, 
stirring the heart, and satisfying the judgement in 
such sort as I doubt whether ever single numbers will 
do in our climate, if they show no more work of 
wonder than yet we see. And if ever they prove to 
become anything, it must be by the approbation of 

240 D 


many ages that must give them their strength for any 
operation, as before the world will feel where the 
pulse, life, and energy lies; which now we are sure 
where to have in our rhymes, whose known frame 
hath those due stays for the mind, those encounters 
of touch, as makes the motion certain, though the 
variety be infinite. 

Nor will the general sort for whom we write (the 
wise being above books) taste these laboured measures 
but as an orderly prose when we have all done. For 
this kind acquaintance and continual familiarity ever 
had betwixt our ear and this cadence is grown to so 
intimate a friendship, as it will now hardly ever be 
brought to miss it. For be the verse never so good, 
never so full, it seems not to satisfy nor breed that 
delight, as when it is met and combined with a like 
sounding accent: which seems as the jointure without 
which it hangs loose, and cannot subsist, but runs 
wildly on, like a tedious fancy without a close. Suffer 
then the world to enjoy that which it knows, and what 
it likes : seeing that whatsoever force of words doth 
move, delight, and sway the affections of men, in 
what Scythian sort soever it be disposed or uttered, 
that is true number, measure, eloquence, and the per- 
fection of speech : which I said hath as many shapes 
as there be tongues or nations in the world, nor can 
with all the tyrannical rules of idle rhetoric be gov- 
erned otherwise than custom and present observation 
will allow. And being now the trim and fashion of the 
times, to suit a man otherwise cannot but give a touch 
of singularity; for when he hath all done, he hath but 
found other clothes to the same body, and per- 
adventure not so fitting as the former. But could our 
adversary hereby set up the music of our times to a 
higher note of judgement and discretion, or could 
these new laws of words better our imperfections, it 
were a happy attempt; but when hereby we shall but 
as it were change prison, and put off these fetters to 
receive others, what have we gained? As good still 


to use rhyme and a little reason as neither rhyme nor 
reason; for, no doubt, as idle wits will write in that 
kind, as do now in this, — imitation will after, though 
it break her neck. Scribimus indocti doctique poemata 
passim. And this multitude of idle writers can be no 
disgrace to the good ; for the same fortune in one pro- 
portion or other is proper in a like season to all states 
in their turn ; and the same unmeasurable confluence 
of scribblers happened when measures were most in 
use among the Romans, as we find by this reprehen- 

Mutavit jnentem populus levis, et calet uno 
Scribendi studio; pueri[que] patresque severi 
Fronde comas vincti cenant et carmina dictant. 

So that their plenty seems to have bred the same 
waste and contempt as ours doth now, though it had 
not power to disvalue what was worthy of posterity, 
nor keep back the reputation of excellences destined 
to continue for many ages. For seeing it is matter that 
satisfies the judicial, appear it in what habit it will, 
all these pretended proportions of wordsj howsoever 
placed, can be but words, and peradventure serve 
but to embroil our understanding; whilst seeking to 
please our ear, we enthral our judgement; to delight 
an exterior sense, we smooth up a weak confused 
sense, affecting sound to be unsound, and all to 
seem Servum pecus, only to imitate Greeks and Latins, 
whose felicity in this kind might be something to 
themselves, to whom their own tdioma was natural; 
but to us it can yield no other commodity than a 
sound. We admire them not for their smooth-gliding 
words, nor their measures, but for their inventions; 
which treasure if it were to be found in Welsh and 
Irish, we should hold those languages in the same 
estimation; and they may thank their sword that 
made their tongues so famous and universal as they 
are. For to say truth, their verse is many times but 
a confused deliverer of their excellent conceits, whose 
scattered limbs we are fain to look out and join 


together, to discern the image of what they represent 
unto us. And even the Latins, who profess not to be 
so Hcentious as the Greeks, show us many times 
examples, but of strange cruelty in torturing and 
dismembering of words in the midst, or disjoining 
such as naturally should be married and march 
together, by setting them as far asunder as they can 
possibly stand : that sometimes, unless the kind reader 
out of his own good nature will stay them up by their 
measure, they will fall down into flat prose, and 
sometimes are no other indeed in their natural sound : 
and then again, when you find them disobedient to 
their own laws, you must hold it to be licentia poetica, 
and so dispensable. The striving to show their change- 
able measures in the variety of their odes have been 
very painful no doubt unto them, and forced them 
thus to disturb the quiet stream of their words which 
by a natural succession otherwise desire to follow in 
their due course. 

But such affliction doth laboursome curiosity still 
lay upon our best delights (which ever must be made 
strange and variable), as if Art were ordained to 
afflict Nature, and that we could not go but in fetters. 
Every science, every profession, must be so wrapped 
up in unnecessary intrications, as if it were not to 
fashion but to confound the understanding: which 
makes me much to distrust man, and fear that our 
presumption goes beyond our ability, and our curiosity 
is more than our judgement; labouring ever to seem 
to be more than we are, or laying greater burdens 
upon our minds than they are well able to bear, 
because we would not appear like other men. 

And indeed I have wished that there were not that 
multiplicity of rhymes as is used by many in sonnets, 
which yet we see in some so happily to succeed, and 
hath been so far from hindering their inventions, as 
it hath begot conceit beyond expectation, and com- 
parable to the best inventions of the world : for sure 
in an eminent spirit, whom Nature hath fitted for 


that mystery, Rhyme is no impediment to his conceit, 
but rather gives him wings to mount, and carries 
him, not out of his course, but as it were beyond his 
power to a far happier flight. All excellences being 
sold us at the hard price of labour, it follows, where 
we bestow most thereof we buy the best success : and 
Rhyme, being far more laborious than loose measures 
(whatsoever is objected), must needs, meeting with 
wit and industry, breed greater and worthier effects 
in our language. So that, if our labours have wrought 
out a manumission from bondage, and that we go at 
liberty, notwithstanding these ties, we are no longer 
the slaves of Rhyme, but we make it a most excellent 
instrument to serve us. Nor is this certain limit ob- 
served in sonnets any tyrannical bounding of the 
conceit, but rather reducing it in girum and a just 
form, neither too long for the shortest project, nor 
too short for the longest, being but only employed for 
a present passion. For the body of our imagination 
being as an unformed chaos without fashion, without 
day, if by the divine power of the spirit it be wrought 
into an orb of order and form, is it not more pleasing 
to Nature, that desires a certainty and comports not 
with that which is infinite, to have these closes, rather 
than not to know where to end, or how far to go, espe- 
cially seeing our passions are often without measure? 
And we find the best of the Latins many times either 
not concluding or else otherwise in the end than they 
began. Besides, is it not most delightful to see much 
excellently ordered in a small room, or little gallantly 
disposed and made to fill up a space of like capacity, 
in such sort that the one would not appear so beautiful 
in a larger circuit, nor the other do well in a less? — 
which often we find to be so, according to the powers 
ol nature in the workman. And these limited propor- 
tions and rests of stanzas, consisting of six, seven, or 
eight lines, are of that happiness both for the disposition 
of the matter, the apt planting the sentence where it 
may best stand to hit, the certain close of delight with 


the full body of a just period well carried, is such as 
neither the Greeks or Latins ever attained unto. For 
their boundless running-on often so confounds the 
reader, that, having once lost himself, must cither 
give off unsatisfied, or uncertainly cast back to retrieve 
the escaped sense, and to find way again into this 

Methinks we should not so soon yield our consents 
captive to the authority of antiquity, unless we saw 
more reason; all our understandings are not to be 
built by the square of Greece and Italy. We are the 
children of nature as well as they; we are not so placed 
out of the way of judgement, but that the same sun 
of discretion shineth upon us ; we have our portion of 
the same virtues as well as of the same vices: Et 
Catilinam quocunque in populo videos, quocunque sub axe. 
Time and the turn of things bring about these faculties 
according to the present estimation : and Res temporibus 
non tempora rebus servire oportet. So that we must never 
rebel against use : Quern penes arbitrium est et vis et norma 
loquendi. It is not the observing of trochaics nor their 
iambics that will make our writings aught the wiser. 
All their Poesy, all their Philosophy is nothing, unless 
we bring the discerning light of conceit with us to 
apply it to use. It is not books, but only that great 
book of the world and the all-overspreading grace of 
heaven that makes men truly judicial. Nor can it be 
but a touch of arrogant ignorance to hold this or that 
nation barbarous, these or those times gross, consider- 
ing how this manifold creature man, wheresoever he 
stand in the world, hath always some disposition of 
worth, entertains the order of society, affects that 
which is most in use, and is eminent in some one 
thing or other that fits his humour and the times. 
The Grecians held all other nadons barbarous but 
themselves; yet Pyrrhus, when he saw the well-ordered 
marching of the Romans, which made them see their 
presumptuous error, could say it was no barbarous 
manner of proceeding. The Goths, Vandals, and 


Lombards, whose coming down like an inundation 
overwhelmed, as they say, all the glory of learning in 
Europe, have yet left us still their laws and customs 
as the originals of most of the provincial constitutions 
of Christendom, which well considered with their 
other courses of government may serve to clear them 
from this imputation of ignorance. And though the 
vanquished never yet spake well of the conqueror, yet 
even through the unsound coverings of malediction 
appear those monuments of truth as argue well their 
worth and proves them not without judgement, though 
without Greek and Latin. 

Will not experience confute us, if we should say the 
state of China, which never heard of Anapaestics, 
Trochees, and Tribrachs, were gross, barbarous, and 
uncivil? And is it not a most apparent ignorance, 
both of the succession of learning in Europe and the 
general course of things, to say 'that all lay pitifully 
deformed in those lack-learning times from the declin- 
ing of the Roman Empire till the light of the Latin 
tongue was revived by Reuchlin, Erasmus, and 
More'? — when for three hundred years before them, 
about the coming down of Tamerlane into Europe, 
Francis Petrarch (who then no doubt likewise found 
whom to imitate) showed all the best notions of learn- 
ing, in that degree of excellency both in Latin, prose 
and verse, and in the vulgar Italian, as all the wits 
of posterity have not yet much overmatched him in 
all kinds to this day: his great volumes in moral 
philosophy show his infinite reading and most happy 
power of disposition ; his twelve Eclogues, his Africa, 
containing nine books of the last Punic war, with his 
three books of Epistles in Latin verse show all the 
transformations of wit and invention that a spirit 
naturally born to the inheritance of poetry and judi- 
cial knowledge could express : all which notwithstand- 
ing wrought him not that glory and fame with his 
own nation as did his poems in Italian, which they 
esteem above all whatsoever wit could have invented 


in any other form than wherein it is; which question- 
less they will not change with the best measures 
Greeks or Latins can show them, howsoever our 
adversary imagines. Nor could this very same innova- 
tion in verse, begun amongst them by C. Tolomei, but 
die in the attempt ; and was buried as soon as it came 
born, neglected as a prodigious and unnatural issue 
amongst them. Nor could it never induce Tasso, the 
wonder of Italy, to write that admirable poem of 
Jerusalem, comparable to the best of the ancients, in 
any other form than the accustomed verse. And with 
Petrarch lived his scholar Boccaccio, and near about 
the same time Johannis Ravenensis ; and from these, 
tanqiiam ex equo Troiano, seems to have issued all those 
famous Italian writers, Leonardus Aretinus, Lauren- 
tius Valla, Poggius, Biondus, and many others. Then 
Emanuel Chrysolaras, a Constantinopolitan gentle- 
man, renowned for his learning and virtue, being 
employed by John Paleologus, Emperor of the East, 
to implore the aid of Christian princes for the suc- 
couring of perishing Greece, and understanding in the 
meantime how Bajazet was taken prisoner by Tamer- 
lane, and his country freed from danger, stayed still 
at Venice, and there taught the Greek tongue, dis- 
continued before in these parts the space of seven 
hundred years. Him followed Bessarion, George 
Trapezuntius, Theodorus Gaza, and others, trans- 
porting Philosophy, beaten by the Turk out of Greece, 
into Christendom. Hereupon came that mighty con- 
fluence of Learning in these parts, which, returning 
as it were per postliminium, and here meeting then 
with the new invented stamp of Printing, spread 
itself indeed in a more universal sort than the world 
ever heretofore had it; when Pomponius Laetus, 
Aeneas Sylvius, Angelus Politianus, Hermolaus Bar- 
barus, Johannes Picus de Mirandula (the miracle and 
phoenix of the world) adorned Italy, and wakened 
other nations likewise with this desire of glory, long 
before it brought forth Reuchlin, Erasmus, and More 


— ^worthy men, I confess, and the last a great ornament 
to this land, and a rhymer. 

And yet long before all these, and likewise with 
these, was not our nation behind in her portion of 
spirit and worthiness, but concurrent with the best 
of all this lettered world ; witness venerable Bede, that 
flourished above a thousand years since; Aldelmus 
Durotelmus, that lived in the year 739, of whom we 
find this commendation registered : Omnium Poetarum 
sui temporis facile primus, tantae eloquentiae, maiesfatis, et 
eruditionis homofuit, ut nunquam satis admirari possim unde 
illi in tam barbara ac rudi aetate facundia accreverit, usque 
adeo omnibus numeris tersa, elegans, et rotunda, versus 
edidit cum antiquitate de palma contendentes . Witness 
Josephus Devonius, who wrote de hello Troiano in so 
excellent a manner, and so near resembling antiquity, 
as printing his work beyond the seas they have ascribed 
it to Cornelius Nepos, one of the ancients. What 
should I name Walterus Mape, Gulielmus Nigellus, 
Gervasius Tilburiensis, Bracton, Bacon, Occam, and 
an infinite catalogue of excellent men, most of them 
living about four hundred years since, and have left 
behind them monuments of most profound judgement 
and learning in all sciences! So that it is but the 
clouds gathered about our own judgement that makes 
us think all other ages wrapped up in mists, and the 
great distance betwixt us that causes us to imagine 
men so far off to be so little in respect of ourselves. 

We must not look upon the immense course of times 
past as men overlook spacious and wide countries from 
off high mountains, and are never the near to judge 
of the true nature of the soil or the particular site and 
face of those territories they see. Nor must we think, 
viewing the superficial figure of a region in a map, 
that we know straight the fashion and place as it is. 
Or reading an history (which is but a map of men, 
and doth no otherwise acquaint us with the true sub- 
stance of circumstances than a superficial card doth 
the seaman with a coast never seen, which always 


proves other to the eye than the imagination forecast 
it), that presently we know all the world, and can 
distinctly judge of times, men, and manners, just as 
they were: when the best measure of man is to be 
taken by his own foot bearing ever the nearest pro- 
portion to himself, and is never so far different and 
unequal in his powers, that he hath all in perfection 
at one time, and nothing at another. The distribution 
of gifts are universal, and all seasons have them in some 
sort. We must not think but that there were Scipios, 
Caesars, Catos, and Pompeys born elsewhere than at 
Rome ; the rest of the world hath ever had them in 
the same degree of nature, though not of state. And 
it is our weakness that makes us mistake or miscon- 
ceive in these delineations of men the true figure of 
their worth. And our passion and belief is so apt to 
lead us beyond truth, that unless we try them by the 
just compass of humanity, and as they were men, we 
shall cast their figures in the air, when we should 
make their models upon earth. It is not the con- 
texture of words, but the effects of action, that gives 
glory to the times: we find they had mercurium in 
pectore, though not in lingua; and in all ages, though 
they were not Ciceronians, they knew the art of 
men, which only is Ars Artium, the great gift of heaven, 
and the chief grace and glory on earth ; they had the 
learning of government, and ordering their state; 
eloquence enough to show their judgements. And it 
seems the best times followed Lycurgus's counsel; 
Literas ad usum saltern discebant, reliqua omnis disciplina 
erat ut pulchre pararent ut labores preferrenc, &c. Had not 
unlearned Rome laid the better foundation, and built 
the stronger frame of an admirable state, eloquent 
Rome had confounded it utterly, which we saw ran 
the way of all confusion, the plain course of dissolu- 
tion, in her greatest skill: and though she had not 
power to undo herself, yet wrought she so that she 
cast herself quite away from the glory of a common- 
wealth, and fell upon the form of state she ever most 


feared and abhorred of all other : and then scarce was 
there seen any shadow of policy under her first 
emperors, but the most horrible and gross confusion 
that could be conceived; notwithstanding, it still 
endured, preserving not only a monarchy, locked up 
in her own limits, but therewithal held under her 
obedience so many nations so far distant, so ill affected, 
so disorderly commanded and unjustly conquered, as 
it is not to be attributed to any other fate but to the 
first frame of that commonwealth; which was so 
strongly jointed, and with such infinite combinations 
interlinked as one nail or other ever held up the 
majesty thereof. There is but one learning, which 
omnes gentes habent scriptum in cordibus suis, one and the 
self-same spirit that worketh in all. We have but one 
body of justice, one body of wisdom throughout the 
whole world; which is but apparelled according to 
the fashion of every nation. 

Eloquence and gay words are not of the substance 
of wit ; it is but the garnish of a nice time, the orna- 
ments that do but deck the house of a state, and 
imitatur publicos mores. Hunger is as well satisfied with 
meat served in pewter as silver. Discretion is the best 
measure, the rightest foot in what habit soever it run. 
Erasmus, Reuchlin, and More brought no more wis- 
dom into the world with all their new revived words 
than we find was before; it bred not a profounder 
divine than St. Thomas, a greater lawyer than Bar- 
tolus, a more acute logician than Scotus ; nor are the 
effects of all this great mass of eloquence so admirable 
or of that consequence, but that impexa ilia antiquitas 
can yet compare with them. 

Let us go no further but look upon the wonderful 
architecture of this state of England, and see whether 
they were deformed times that could give it such a 
form: where there is no one the least pillar of majesty 
but was set with most profound judgement, and borne 
up with the just convenience of prince and people; 
no court of justice but laid by the rule and square of 


Nature, and the best of the best commonwealths that 
ever were in the world; so strong and substantial as 
it hath stood against all the storms of factions, both 
of belief and ambition, which so powerfully beat upon 
it, and all the tempestuous alterations of humorous 
times whatsoever; being continually in all ages fur- 
nished with spirits fit to maintain the majesty of her 
own greatness, and to match in an equal concurrency 
all other kingdoms round about her with whom it had 
to encounter. 

But this innovation, like a viper, must ever make 
way into the world's opinion, through the bowels of 
her own breeding, and is always borne with reproach 
in her mouth; the disgracing others is the best grace 
it can put on to win reputation of wit; and yet it is 
never so wise as it would seem, nor doth the world 
ever get so much by it as it imagineth; which being 
so often deceived, and seeing it never performs so 
much as it promises, methinks men should never give 
more credit unto it. For, let us change never so often, 
we cannot change man; our imperfections must still 
run on with us. And therefore the wiser nations have 
taught men always to use moribus legibusque praesentibus 
etiamsi deteriores sint. The Lacedaemonians, when a 
musician, thinking to win himself credit by his new 
invention and be before his fellows, had added one 
string more to his crowd, brake his fiddle and banished 
him the city, holding the innovator, though in the 
least things, dangerous to a public society. It is but 
a fantastic giddiness to forsake the way of other men, 
especially where it lies tolerable: Ubi nunc est res- 
publica, ibi simus potitis quam dum illam veterem sequimur 
simus in nulla. 

But shall we not tend to perfection? Yes; and that 
ever best by going on in the course we are in, where 
we have advantage, being so far onward, of him that 
is but now setting forth. For we shall never proceed, 
if we be ever beginning; nor arrive at any certain 
port, sailing with all winds that blow — non convalescit 


planta quae saepius transfertur — and therefore let us hold 
on in the course we have undertaken, and not still 
be wandering. Perfection is not the portion of man ; 
and if it were, why may we not as well get to it this 
way as another, and suspect those great undertakers, 
lest they have conspired with envy to betray our pro- 
ceedings, and put lis by the honour of our attempts, 
with casting us back upon another course, of purpose 
to overthrow the whole action of glory when we lay 
the fairest for it, and were so near our hopes? I thank 
God that I am none of these great scholars, if thus 
their high knowledges do but give them more eyes to 
look out into uncertainty and confusion, accounting 
myself rather beholding to my ignorance that hath 
set me in so low an under-room of conceit with other 
men, and hath given me as much distrust as it hath 
done hope, daring not adventure to go alone, but 
plodding on the plain tract I find beaten by custom 
and the time, contenting me with what I see in use. 
And surely methinks these great wits should rather 
seek to adorn than to disgrace the present; bring some- 
thing to it, without taking from it what it hath. But 
it is ever the misfortune of Learning to be wounded 
by her own hand. Stimulos dat emula virtus, and where 
there is not ability to match what is, malice will find 
out engines, either to disgrace or ruin it, with a per- 
verse encounter of some new impression ; and, which 
is the greatest misery, it must ever proceed from the 
powers of the best reputation, as if the greatest spirits 
were ordained to endanger the world, as the gross are 
to dishonour it, and that we were to expect ab optimic 
periculum, a pessimis dedecus publicum. Emulation, the 
strongest pulse that beats in high minds, is oftentimes 
a wind, but of the worst effect; for whilst the soul 
comes disappointed of the object it wrought on, it 
presently forges another, and even cozens itself, and 
crosses all the world, rather than it will stay to be 
under her desires, falling out with all it hath, to 
flatter and make fair that which it would have. 


So that it is the ill success of our longings that with 
Xerxes makes us to whip the sea, and send a cartel 
of defiance to Mount Athos : and the fault laid upon 
others' weakness is but a presumptuous opinion of our 
own strength, who must not seem to be mastered. 
But had our adversary taught us by his own proceed- 
ings this way of perfection, and therein framed us a 
poem of that excellence as should have put down all, 
and been the masterpiece of these times, we should all 
have admired him. But to deprave the present form 
of writing, and to bring us nothing but a few loose and 
uncharitable epigrams — and yet would make us be- 
lieve those numbers were come to raise the glory of 
our language — giveth us cause to suspect the per- 
formance, and to examine whether this new art constat 
sibi, or aliquid sit dictum quod non sit dictum prius. 

First, we must here imitate the Greeks and Latins, 
and yet we are here showed to disobey them, even 
in their own numbers and quantities; taught to pro- 
duce what they make short, and make short what they 
produce ; make believe to be showed measures in that 
form we have not seen, and no such matter ; told that 
here is the perfect art of versifying, which in con- 
clusion is yet confessed to be unperfect — as if our 
adversary, to be opposite to us, were become unfaith- 
ful to himself, and seeking to lead us out of the way 
of reputation, hath adventured to intricate and con- 
found him in his own courses, running upon most 
uneven grounds, with imperfect rules, weak proofs, 
and unlawful laws. Whereunto the world, I am per- 
suaded, is not so unreasonable as to subscribe, con- 
sidering the unjust authority of the lawgiver: for who 
hath constituted him to be the Rhadamanthus, thus 
to torture syllables and adjudge them their perpetual 
doom, setting his Theta or mark of condemnation upon 
them, to endure the appointed sentence of his cruelty, 
as he shall dispose? As though there were that dis- 
obedience in our words, as they would not be ruled 
or stand in order without so many intricate laws; 


which would argue a great perverseness amongst 
them, according to that in pessima republica plurimae 
leges, or that they were so far gone from the quiet free- 
dom of nature that they must thus be brought back 
again by force. And now in what case were this poor 
state of words, if in Uke sort another tyrant the next 
year should arise and abrogate these laws and ordain 
others clean contrary according to his humour, and 
say that they were only right, the others unjust? 
What disturbance were there here, to whom should 
we obey? Were it not far better to hold us fast to our 
old custom than to stand thus distracted with uncer- 
tain laws, wherein Right shall have as many faces as 
it pleases passion to make it, that wheresoever men's 
affections stand, it shall still look that way? What 
trifles doth our unconstant curiosity call up to contend 
for? what colours are there laid upon indifferent 
things to make them seem other than they are, as if 
it were but only to entertain contestation amongst 
men, who, standing according to the prospective of 
their own humour, seem to see the self-same things to 
appear otherwise to them than either they do to other, 
or are indeed in themselves, being but all one in 
nature? For what ado have we here? what strange 
precepts of art about the framing of an iambic verse 
in our language? which, when all is done, reaches not 
by a foot, but falleth out to be the plain ancient verse, 
consisting of ten syllables or five feet, which hath ever 
been used amongst us time out of mind, and, for all 
this cunning and counterfeit name, can or will [not] 
be any other in nature than it hath been ever hereto- 
fore : and this new dimeter is but the half of this verse 
divided in two, and no other than the caesura or breath- 
ing-place in the midst thereof, and therefore it had 
been as good to have put two lines in one, but only 
to make them seem diverse. Nay, it had been much 
better for the true English reading and pronouncing 
thereof, without violating the accent, which now our 
adversary hath herein most unkindly done : for, being 


as we are to sound it, according to our English march, 
we must make a rest, and raise the last syllable, which 
falls out very unnatural in desolate, funeral, Elizabeth, 
prodigal, and in all the rest, saving the monosyllables- 
Then follows the English trochaic, which is said to 
be a simple verse, and so indeed it is, being without 
rhyme : having here no other grace than that in sound 
it runs like the known measure of our former ancient 
verse, ending (as we term it according to the French) 
in a feminine foot, saving that it is shorter by one 
syllable at the beginning, which is not much missed, 
by reason it falls full at the last. Next comes the 
elegiac, being the fourth kind, and that likewise is no 
other than our old accustomed measure of five feet: 
if there be any difference, it must be made in the 
reading, and therein we must stand bound to stay 
where often we would not, and sometimes either break 
the accent or the due course of the word. And now 
for the other four kinds of numbers, which are to be 
employed for odes, they are either of the same measure, 
or such as have ever been familiarly used among us. 
So that of all these eight several kinds of new 
promised numbers, you see what we have — only what 
was our own before, and the same but apparelled in 
foreign titles ; which had they come in their kind and 
natural attire of rhyme, we should never have sus- 
pected that they had affected to be other, or sought 
to degenerate into strange manners which now we see 
was the cause why they were turned out of their proper 
habit, and brought in as aliens, only to induce men 
to admire them as far-comers. But see the power of 
Nature ; it is not all the artificial coverings of wit that 
can hide their native and original condition, which 
breaks out through the strongest bands of affectation, 
and will be itself, do singularity what it can. And as 
for those imagined quantities of syllables, which have 
been ever held free and indifferent in our language, 
who can enforce us to take knowledge of them, being 
in nullius verba iurati, and owing fealty to no foreign 


invention? especially in such a case where there is 
no necessity in Nature, or that it imports either the 
matter or form, whether it be so or otherwise. But 
every versifier that well observes his work finds in our 
language, without all these unnecessary precepts, 
what numbers best fit the nature of her idiom, and 
the proper places destined to such accents as she will 
not let into any other rooms than in those for which 
they were born. As for example, you cannot make 
this fall into the right sound of a verse — 

None thinks reward rend'red worthy his worth, 

unless you thus misplace the accent upon 'rend'rfed* 
and 'worthy', contrary to the nature of these words: 
which showeth that two feminine numbers (or tro- 
chees, if so you will call them) will not succeed in the 
third and fourth place of the verse. And so likewise 
in this case. 

Though death doth consume, yet virtue preserves, 

it will not be a verse, though it hath the just syllables, 
without the same number in the second, and the 
altering of the fourth place in this sort, 

Though death doth ruin, virtue yet preserves. 

Again, who knows not that we cannot kindly answer 
a feminine number with a masculine rhyme, or (if you 
will so term it) a trochee with a spondee, as weakness 
with confess, nature and endure, only for that thereby we 
shall wrong the accent, the chief lord and grave 
governor of numbers ? Also you cannot in a verse of 
four feet place a trochee in the first, without the like 
offence, as, Yearly out of his watery Cell; for so you shall 
sound it Yearly, which is unnatural. And other such 
like observations usually occur, which Nature and a 
judicial ear of themselves teach us readily to avoid. 

But now for whom hath our adversary taken all 
this pains? For the learned, or for the ignorant, or 
for himself, to show his own skill? If for the learned, 
it was to no purpose, for every grammarian in this 


land hath learned his Prosodia, and already knows all 
this art of numbers : if for the ignorant, it was vain, 
for if they become versifiers, we are like to have lean 
numbers instead of fat rhyme; and if Tully would 
have his orator skilled in all the knowledges apper- 
taining to God and man, what should they have who 
would be a degree above orators ? Why then it was to 
show his own skill, and what himself had observed ; 
so he might well have done without doing wrong to 
the fame of the living, and wrong to England, in 
seeking to lay reproach upon her native ornaments, 
and to turn the fair stream and full course of her 
accents into the shallow current of a less uncertainty, 
clean out of the way of her known delight. And 
I had thought it could never have proceeded from 
the pen of a scholar (who sees no profession free 
from the impure mouth of the scorner) to say the 
reproach of others' idle tongues is the curse of Nature 
upon us, when it is rather her curse upon him, that 
knows not how to use his tongue. What, doth he 
think himself is now gotten so far out of the way of 
contempt, that his numbers are gone beyond the 
reach of obloquy, and that, how frivolous or idle 
soever they shall run, they shall be protected from 
disgrace? as though that light rhymes and light num- 
bers did not weigh all alike in the grave opinion of the 
wise. And that is not rhyme but our idle arguments 
that hath brought down to so base a reckoning the 
price and estimation of writing in this kind; when the 
few good things of this age, by coming together in 
one throng and press with the many bad, are not 
discerned from them, but overlooked with them, and 
all taken to be alike. But when after-times shall make 
a quest of enquiry, to examine the best of this age, 
peradventure there will be found in the now con- 
temned records of Rhyme matter not unfitting the 
gravest divine and severest lawyer in this kingdom. 
But these things must have the date of antiquity to 
make them reverend and authentical. For ever in 


the collation of writers men rather weigh their age 
than their merit, and legunt priscos cum reverentia, quando 
coaetaneos non possunt sine invidia. And let no writer in 
rhyme be any way discouraged in his endeavour by 
this brave alarum, but rather animated to bring up 
all the best of their powers, and charge with all the 
strength of nature and industry upon contempt, that 
the show of their real forces may turn back insolency 
into her own hold. For be sure that innovation never 
works any overthrow, but upon the advantage of a 
careless idleness. And let this make us look the better 
to our feet, the better to our matter, better to our 
manners. Let the adversary that thought to hurt us 
bring more profit and honour by being against us than 
if he had stood still on our side. For that (next to 
the awe of heaven) the best rein, the strongest hand to 
make men keep their way, is that which their enemy 
bears upon them : and let this be the benefit we make 
by being oppugned, and the means to redeem back 
the good opinion vanity and idleness have suffered 
to be won from us; which nothing but substance 
and matter can effect. For scribendi recte sapere est et 
principium etfons. 

When we hear music, we must be in our ear in 
the outer-room of sense, but when we entertain 
judgement, we retire into the cabinet and innermost 
withdrawing chamber of the soul. And it is but as 
music for the ear verba sequi fidibus modulanda Latinis; 
but it is a work of power for the soul numerosque mo- 
dus que ediscere vitae. The most judicial and worthy spirits 
of this land arc not so delicate, or will owe so much 
to their ear, as to rest upon the outside of words, and 
be entertained with sound ; seeing that both number, 
measure, and rhyme is but as the ground or seat, 
whereupon is raised the work that commends it, 
and which may be easily at the first found out by any 
shallow conceit: as we see some fantastic to begin a 
fashion, which afterward gravity itself is fain to put 
on, because it will not be out of the wear of other 


men, and recti apudnos locum tenet error ubi publicus f actus 
est. And power and strength that can plant itself 
anywhere, having built within this compass, and 
reared it of so high a respect, we now embrace it 
as the fittest dwelling for our invention, and have 
thereon bestowed all the substance of our under- 
standing to furnish it as it is. And therefore here I 
stand forth, only to make good the place we have 
thus taken up, and to defend the sacred monuments 
erected therein, which contain the honour of the dead, 
the fame of the Hving, the glory of peace, and the 
best power of our speech; and wherein so many 
honourable spirits have sacrificed to memory their 
dearest passions, showing by what divine influence 
they have been moved, and under what stars they 

But yet, notwithstanding all this which I have 
here dehvered in the defence of rhyme, I am not 
so far in love with mine own mystery, or will seem 
so froward, as to be against the reformation and the 
better settling these measures of ours. Wherein there 
be many things I could wish were more certain and 
better ordered, though myself dare not take upon me 
to be a teacher therein, having so much need to 
learn of others. And I must confess that to mine own 
ear those continual cadences of couplets used in long 
and continued poems are very tiresome and unpleas- 
ing, by reason that still, methinks, they run on with 
a sound of one nature, and a kind of certainty which 
stuffs the delight rather than entertains it. But yet, 
notwithstanding, I must not out of mine own dainti- 
ness condemn this kind of writing, which perad- 
venture to another may seem most delightful; and 
many worthy compositions we see to have passed 
with commendation in that kind. Besides, methinks, 
sometimes to beguile the ear with a running out, 
and passing over the rhyme, as no bound to stay us 
in the line where the violence of the matter will 
break through, is rather graceful than otherwise. 


Wherein I find my Homer-Lucan, as if he gloried 
to seem to have no bounds, albeit he were confined 
within his measures, to be in my conceit most happy. 
For so thereby they who care not for verse or rhyme 
may pass it over with taking notice thereof, and 
please themselves with a well-measured prose. And 
I must confess my adversary hath wrought this much 
upon me, that I think a tragedy would indeed best 
comport with a blank verse, and dispense with rhyme, 
saving in the chorus, or where a sentence shall re- 
quire a couplet. And to avoid this over-glutting the 
ear with that always certain and full encounter of 
rhyme, I have assayed in some of my Epistles to 
alter the usual place of meeting, and to set it further 
off by one verse, to try how I could disuse mine own 
ear and to ease it of this continual burden which 
indeed seems to surcharge it a little too much: but 
as yet I cannot come to please myself therein, this 
alternate or cross rhyme holding still the best place in 
my affection. 

Besides, to me this change of number in a poem 
of one nature fits not so well as to mix uncertainly 
feminine rhymes with masculine, which ever since 
I was warned of that deformity by my kind friend 
and countryman Master Hugh Samford, I have al- 
ways so avoided it, as there are not above two coup- 
lets in that kind in all my poem of the Civil Wars : 
and I would willingly if I could have altered it in all 
the rest, holding feminine rhymes to be fittest for 
ditties, and either to be set for certain, or else by 
themselves. But in these things, I say, I dare not 
take upon me to teach that they ought to be so, in 
respect myself holds them to be so, or that I think 
it right: for indeed there is no right in these things 
that are continually in a wandering motion, carried 
with the violence of uncertain likings, being but only 
the time that gives them their power. For if this 
right or truth should be no other thing than that we 
make it, we shall shape it into a thousand figures, 


seeing this excellent painter, Man, can so well lay 
the colours which himself grinds in his own affections, 
as that he will make them serve for any shadow and 
any counterfeit. But the greatest hinderer to our 
proceedings and the reformation of our errors is this 
self-love, whereunto we versifiers are ever noted to 
be specially subject; a disease of all other the most 
dangerous and incurable, being once seated in the 
spirits, for which there is no cure but only by a 
spiritual remedy. Multos puto ad sapientiam potuisse 
pervenire, nisi putassent se pervenisse: and this opinion 
of our sufficiency makes so great a crack in our judge- 
ment, as it will hardly ever hold anything of worth. 
Caecus amor sui; and though it would seem to see all 
without it, yet certainly it discerns but little within. 
For there is not the simplest writer that will ever tell 
himself he doth ill, but, as if he were the parasite 
only to sooth his own doings, persuades him that his 
lines cannot but please others which so much delight 
himself: Suffenus est quisque sibi 

— neque idem unquam 
Aeque est beatus, ac poema cum scribit. 
Tarn gaudet in se tamque se ipse miratur. 

And the more to show that he is so, we shall see him 
evermore in all places, and to all persons repeating 
his own compositions; and 

Quern vero arripuit, tenet, occiditque legendo. 

Next to this deformity stands our affectation, where- 
in we always betray ourselves to be both unkind and 
unnatural to our own native language, in disguising 
or forging strange or unusual words, as if it were to 
make our verse seem another kind of speech out of 
the course of our usual practice, displacing our words, 
or inventing new, only upon a singularity, when our 
own accustomed phrase, set in the due place, would 
express us more familiarly and to better delight than 
all this idle affectation of antiquity or novelty can 
ever do. And I cannot but wonder at the strange 


presumption of some mien, that dare so audaciously 
adventure to introduce any whatsoever foreign words, 
be they never so strange, and of themselves, as it were, 
without a parliament, without any consent or allow- 
ance, establish them as free denizens in our language. 
But this is but a character of that perpetual revolu- 
tion which we see to be in all things that never remain 
the same: and we must herein be content to submit 
ourselves to the law of time, which in few years will 
make all that for which we now contend nothing. 


[From The Advancement of Learning, Book II, 1605] 

THE parts of human learning have reference to 
the three parts of man's understanding, which is 
the seat of learning: History to his memory, Poesy 
to his imagination, and Philosophy to his reason. 
Divine learning receiveth the same distribution, for 
the spirit of man is the same, though the revelation 
of oracle and sense be diverse; so as Theology con- 
sisteth also of History of the Church, of Parables, 
which is Divine Poesy, and of holy Doctrine or Precept. 
For as for that part which seemeth supernumerary, 
which is Prophecy, it is but Divine History, which 
hath that prerogative over human as the narration 
may be before the fact as well as after. 

History is natural, civil, ecclesiastical, and literary, 
whereof the three first I allow as extant, the fourth 
I note as deficient. For no man hath propounded 
to himself the general state of learning to be de- 
scribed and represented from age to age, as many have 
done the works of Nature and the State civil and 
ecclesiastical, without which the History of the world 
seemeth to me to be as the statua of Polyphemus with 
his eye out, that part being wanting which doth most 
show the spirit and life of the person. And yet I am 
not ignorant that in divers particular sciences, as of 
the Jurisconsults, the Mathematicians, the Rhetori- 
cians, the Philosophers, there are set do\vn some small 
memorials of the schools, authors, and books ; and so 
likewise some barren relations touching the invention 
of arts or usages. But a just story of learning, con- 
taining the antiquities and originals of knowledges 
and their sects, their inventions, their traditions, their 
diverse administrations and managings, their flourish- 


ings, their oppositions, decays, depressions, oblivions, 
removes, with the causes and occasions of them, and 
all other events concerning learning throughout the 
ages of the world, I may truly affirm to be wanting. 
The use and end of which work I do not so much 
design for curiosity or satisfaction of those that are 
the lovers of learning, but chiefly for a more serious 
and grave purpose, which is this in few words, that 
it will make learned men wise in the use and admini- 
stration of learning. For it is not Saint Augustine's 
nor Saint Ambrose's works that will make so wise 
a divine as Ecclesiastical History thoroughly read and 
observed, and the same reason is of Learning. 

• ••••••• 

Poesy is a part of Learning in measure of words 
for the most part restrained, but in all other points 
extremely licensed, and doth truly refer to the imagi- 
nation, which, being not tied to the laws of matter, 
may at pleasure join that which Nature hath severed, 
and sever that which Nature hath joined, and so 
make unlawful matches and divorces of things : Pic- 
toribus atque Poetis, &c. It is taken in two senses in 
respect of words or matter. In the first sense it is 
but a character of style, and belongeth to arts of speech, 
and is not pertinent for the present. In the later it is, 
as hath been said, one of the principal portions of 
learning, and is nothing else but feigned history, 
which may be styled as well in prose as in verse. 

The use of this feigned history hath been to give 
some shadow of satisfaction to the mind of man in 
those points wherein the nature of things doth deny 
it, the world being in proportion inferior to the soul; 
by reason whereof there is agreeable to the spirit of 
man a more ample greatness, a more exact goodness, 
and a more absolute variety than can be found in 
the nature of things. Therefore, because the acts 
or events of true History have not that magnitude 
which satisfieth the mind of man. Poesy feigneth 
acts and events greater and more heroical; because 


true History propoundeth the successes and issues 
of actions not so agreeable to the merits of virtue 
and vice, therefore Poesy feigns them more just in 
retribution and more according to revealed Provi- 
dence; because true History representeth actions and 
events more ordinary and less interchanged, therefore 
Poesy endueth them with more rareness and more un- 
expected and alternative variations: so as it appear- 
eth that Poesy serveth and conferreth to magnanimity, 
morality, and to delectation. And therefore it was 
ever thought to have some participation of divineness, 
because it doth raise and erect the mind, by sub- 
mitting the shows of things to the desires of the mind, 
whereas reason doth buckle and bow the mind unto 
the nature of things. And we see that by these 
insinuations and congruities with man's nature and 
pleasure, joined also with the agreement and consort 
it hath with music, it hath had access and estimation 
in rude times and barbarous regions, where other 
learning stood excluded. 

The division of Poesy which is aptest in the pro- 
priety thereof (besides those divisions which arc 
common unto it with History, as feigned chronicles, 
feigned lives, and the appendices of History, as feigned 
epistles, feigned orations, and the rest) is into Poesy 
Narrative, Representative, and Allusive. The Narra- 
tive is a mere imitation of History with the excesses 
before remembered, choosing for subject commonly 
wars and love, rarely state, and sometimes pleasure or 
mirth. Representative is as a visible History, and is 
an image of actions as if they were present, as History 
is of acUons in nature as they are, that is past; 
Allusive, or Parabolical, is a narration applied only 
to express some special purpose or conceit: which 
later kind of parabolical wisdom was much more 
in lose in the ancient times, as by the Fables of Aesop, 
and the brief sentences of the Seven, and the use of 
hieroglyphics may appear. And the cause was for 
that it was then of necessity to express any point of 


reason which was more sharp or subtle than the 
vulgar in that manner, because men in those times 
wanted both variety of examples and subtlety of 
conceit: and as hieroglyphics were before letters, so 
parables were before arguments : and nevertheless now 
and at all times they do retain much life and vigour, 
because reason cannot be sensible, nor examples so fit. 
But there remaineth yet another use of Poesy para- 
bolical opposite to that which we last mentioned ; for 
that tendeth to demonstrate and illustrate that which 
is taught or delivered, and this other to retire and 
obscure it: that is, when the secrets and mysteries 
of Religion, Policy, or Philosophy, are involved in 
fables or parables. Of this in divine Poesy we see 
the use is authorized. In heathen Poesy we see the 
exposition of fables doth fall out sometimes with 
great felicity, as in the fable that the Giants being 
overthrown in their war against the Gods, the Earth 
their mother in revenge thereof brought forth Fame : 

Illam terra Parens ira irritata Deorum, 
Extremam, ut perhibent, Coeo Enceladoque Sororem 
Progenuit : 

expounded, that when princes and monarchs have 
suppressed actual and open rebels, then the malig- 
nity of people, which is the mother of Rebellion, 
doth bring forth libels and slanders, and taxations of 
the states, which is of the same kind -with rebellion, 
but more feminine: so in the fable that the rest of 
the gods having conspired to bind Jupiter, Pallas 
called Briareus with his hundred hands to his aid, 
expounded, that monarchies need not fear any curb- 
ing of their absoluteness by mighty subjects, as long 
as by wisdom they keep the hearts of the people, 
who will be sure to come in on their side: so in the 
fable that Achilles was brought up under Chiron the 
Centaur, who was part a man and part a beast, 
expounded ingenuously but corruptly by Machiavell, 
that it belongeth to the education and discipline of 


princes to know as well how to play the part of the 
lion in violence and the fox in guile, as of the man in 
virtue and justice. Nevertheless, in many the like 
encounters, I do rather think that the fable was first 
and the exposition devised than that the moral was 
first and thereupon the fable framed. For I find it was 
an ancient vanity in Chrysippus that troubled him- 
self with great contention to fasten the assertions of 
the Stoics upon the fictions of the ancient poets: 
but yet that all the fables and fictions of the poets 
were but pleasure and not figure, I interpose no 
opinion. Surely of those poets which are now extant, 
even Homer himself (notwithstanding he was made a 
kind of Scripture by the later schools of the Grecians), 
yet I should without any difficulty pronounce that 
his fables had no such inwardness in his own meaning: 
but what they might have, upon a more original 
tradition, is not easy to affirm, for he was not the 
inventor of many of them. In this third part of 
Learning which is Poesy, I can report no deficiency. 
For being as a plant that cometh of the lust of the 
earth, without a formal seed, it hath sprung up and 
spread abroad, more than any other kind: but to 
ascribe unto it that which is due for the expressing 
of affections, passions, corruptions, and customs, we 
are beholden to Poets more than to the Philosophers' 
works, and for wit and eloquence not much less than 
to Orators' harangues. 




i. De Shakespeare nostrat 

REMEMBER the players have often mentioned 
it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, 
whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. 
My answer hath been, 'Would he had blotted a 
thousand,' which they thought a malevolent speech. 
I had not told posterity this but for their ignorance 
who chose that circumstance to commend their friend 
by wherein he most faulted; and to justify mine own 
candour, for I loved the man, and do honour his 
memory on this side idolatry as much as any. He was, 
indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; 
had an excellent fantasy, brave notions, and gentle 
expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that 
sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped. 
^Sufflaminandiis erat,'' as Augustus said of Haterius. His 
wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had 
been so, too! Many times he fell into those things, 
could not escape laughter, as when he said in the 
person of Caesar, one speaking to him, 'Caesar, thou 
dost me wrong.' He replied, 'Caesar did never wrong 
but with just cause;' and such like, which were 
ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. 
There was ever more in him to be praised than to be 

ii. Ingeniorum Discrimina 

It cannot but come to pass that these men who 
commonly seek to do more than enough may some- 
times happen on something that is good and great; 
but very seldom: and when it comes, it doth not 


recompense the rest of their ill. For their jests and 
their sentences, which they only and ambitiously seek 
for, stick out and are more eminent, because all is 
sordid and vile about them; as lights are more 
discerned in a thick darkness than a faint shadow. 
Now because they speak all they can, however unfitly, 
they are thought to have the greater copy. Where 
the learned use ever election and a mean they look 
back to what they intended at first, and make all 
an even and proportioned body. The true artificer 
will not run away from Nature, as he were afraid of 
her, or depart from life and the likeness of Truth, 
but speak to the capacity of his hearers. And though 
his language diflfer from the vulgar somewhat, it shall 
not fly from all humanity, with the Tamerlanes and 
Tamer-Chams of the late age, which had nothing in 
them but the scenical strutting and furious voci- 
feration to warrant them to the ignorant gapers. He 
knows it is his only art so to carry it, as none but 
artificers perceive it. In the meantime perhaps he is 
called barren, dull, lean, a poor writer, or by what 
contumelious words can come in their cheeks, by these 
men who, without labour, judgement, knowledge, or 
almost sense, are received or preferred before him. 
He gratulates them and their fortune. Another age 
or juster men will acknowledge the virtues of his 
studies, his wisdom in dividing, his subtil ty in 
arguing, with what strength he doth inspire his 
readers, with what sweetness he strokes them; in in- 
veighing, what sharpness; in jest, what urbanity he 
uses; how he doth reign in men's affections; how 
invade and break in upon them, and makes their 
minds like the thing he writes. Then in his elocution, 
to behold what word is proper, which hath ornament, 
which height, what is beautifully translated, where 
figures are fit, which gentle, which strong to show 
the composition manly: and how he hath avoided 
faint, obscure, obscene, sordid, humble, improper, or 
eflfeminate phrase, which is not only praised of the 


most, but commended, which is worse, especially for 
that it is naught. 

iii. Scriptorum Calalogus 

Cicero is said to be the only wit that the people 
of Rome had equalled to their Empire. Ingenium par 
imperio. We have had many, and in their several 
ages (to take in but the former seculum) Sir Thomas 
More, the elder Wyatt, Henry Earl of Surrey, Cha- 
loner. Smith, Elyot, B. Gardiner, were for their times 
admirable; and the more because they began elo- 
quence with us. Sir Nicholas Bacon was singular and 
almost alone in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's 
times. Sir Philip Sidney and Mr. Hooker, in different 
matter, grew great masters of wit and language, and 
in whom all vigour of invention and strength of 
judgement met. The Earl of Essex, noble and high, 
and Sir Walter Raleigh, not to be contemned either 
for judgement or style; Sir Henry Savile, grave and 
truly lettered; Sir Edwin Sandes, excellent in both; 
Lord Egerton, the Chancellor, a grave and great 
orator, and best when he was provoked. But his 
learned and able, though unfortunate, successor is he 
who hath filled up all numbers, and performed that 
in our tongue which may be compared or preferred 
either to insolent Greece or haughty Rome. In short, 
within his view and about his times were all the wits 
born that could honour a language or help study. 
Now things daily fall; wits grow downward and 
eloquence grows backward : so that he may be named 
and stand as the mark and aKpL-q of our language. 

I have ever observed it to have been the office of 
a wise patriot, among the greatest affairs of the state, 
to take care of the commonwealth of learning. For 
schools, they are the seminaries of state; and nothing 
is worthier the study of a statesman than that part 
of the republic which we call the advancement of 
letters. Witness the care of Julius Caesar, who in the 
heat of the civil war writ his books of Analogy, and 


dedicated them to Tully. This made the late Lord 
St. Albans entitle his work Novum Organum: which, 
though by the most of superficial men, who cannot 
get beyond the title of Nominals, it is not penetrated 
nor understood, it really openeth all defects of Learn- 
ing whatsoever, and is a book 

Qui longum nolo scriptori porriget aevum. 

iv. Praecipiendi Modi 

I take this labour in teaching others, that they 
should not be always to be taught, and I would bring 
my precepts into practice. For rules are ever of less 
force and value than experiments: yet with this pur- 
pose, rather to show the right way to those that 
come after, than to detect any that have slipped 
before by error; and I hope it will be more profit- 
able : for men do more willingly listen, and with more 
favour, to precept than reprehension. Among diverse 
opinions of an art, and most of them contrary in 
themselves, it is hard to make election ; and therefore, 
though a man cannot invent new things after so many, 
he may do a welcome work yet to help posterity to 
judge rightly of the old. But arts and precepts avail 
nothing, except Nature be beneficial and aiding. And 
therefore these things are no more written to a dull 
disposition than rules of husbandry to a barren soil. 
No precepts will profit a fool, no more than beauty 
will the blind, or music the deaf. As we should take 
care that our style in writing be neither dry nor 
empty, we should look again it be not winding, or 
wanton with far-fetched descriptions : either is a vice. 
But that is worse which proceeds out of want than 
that which riots out of plenty. The remedy of fruit- 
fulness is easy, but no labour will help the contrary. 
I will like and praise some things in a young writer 
which yet, if he continue in, I cannot but justly hate 
him for the same. There is a time to be given all 
things for maturity, and that even your country 


husbandman can teach, who to a young plant will 
not put the pruning knife, because it seems to fear 
the iron, as not able to admit the scar. No more 
would I tell a green writer all his faults, lest I should 
make him grieve and faint, and at last despair. For 
nothing doth more hurt than to make him so afraid 
of all things as he can endeavour nothing. Therefore 
youth ought to be instructed betimes, and in the best 
things; for we hold those longest we take soonest: as 
the first scent of a vessel lasts, and that tinct the wool 
first receives. Therefore a master should temper his 
own powers, and descend to the other's infirmity. If 
you pour a glut of water upon a bottle, it receives 
little of it; but with a funnel, and by degrees, you 
shall fill many of them, and spill Uttle of your own ; 
to their capacity they will all receive and be full. And 
as it is fit to read the best authors to youth first, so let 
them be of the openest and clearest: as Livy before 
Sallust, Sidney before Donne ; and beware of letting 
them taste Gower or Chaucer at first, lest falling too 
much in love with antiquity, and not apprehending 
the weight, they grow rough and barren in language 
only. When their judgements are firm and out of 
danger, let them read both the old and the new; 
but no less take heed that their new flowers and 
sweetness do not as much corrupt as the others' dry- 
ness and squalor, if they choose not carefully. Spenser, 
in affecting the ancients, writ no language: yet I 
would have him read for his matter, but as Virgil 
read Ennius. The reading of Homer and Virgil is 
counselled by Quintilian as the best way of informing 
youth and confirming man. For, besides that the 
mind is raised with the height and sublimity of such 
a verse, it takes spirit from the greatness of the matter, 
and is tincted with the best things. Tragic and Lyric 
Poetry is good too; and Comic with the best, if the 
manners of the reader be once in safety. In the Greek 
poets, as also in Plautus, we shall see the economy 
and disposition of poems better observed than in 

240 E 


Terence and the later, who thought the sole grace 
and virtue of their fable the sticking in of sentences, 
as ours do the forcing in of jests. 




To draw no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name, 

Am I thus ample to thy book and fame; 

While I confess thy writings to be such, 

As neither man, nor Muse, can praise too much. 

'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these ways 

Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise; 

For silliest ignorance on these may light. 

Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right; 

Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance 

The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance; 

Or crafty malice might pretend this praise, 

And think to ruin, where it seem'd to raise. 

These are, as some infamous bawd, or whore, 

Should praise a matron; what could hurt her more? 

But thou art proof against them, and, indeed, 

Above the ill fortune of them, or the need. 

I therefore will begin. Soul of the age ! 

The applause! delight! the wonder of our stage! 

My Shakespeare, rise ! I will not lodge thee by 

Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie 

A little further to make thee a room: 

Thou art a monument without a tomb. 

And art alive still, while thy book doth live, 

And we have wits to read, and praise to give. 

That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses, 

I mean with great, but disproportion'd Muses : 

For if I thought my judgement were of years, 

I should commit thee surely with thy peers, 


And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine, 

Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line. 

And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek, 

From thence to honour thee, I will not seek 

For names : but call forth thund'ring Aeschylus, 

Euripides, and Sophocles to us, 

Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead. 

To life again, to hear thy buskin tread, 

And shake a stage : or when thy socks were on, 

Leave thee alone for the comparison 

Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughty Rome 

Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come. 

Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show. 

To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe. 

He was not of an age, but for all time ! 

And all the Muses still were in their prime, 

When like Apollo, he came forth to warm 

Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm! 

Nature herself was proud of his designs. 

And joy'd to wear the dressing of his lines! 

Which were so richly spun ; and woven so fit. 

As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit. 

The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes, 

Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please; 

But antiquated and deserted lie. 

As they were not of nature's family. 

Yet must I not give nature all ; thy art. 

My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part. 

For though the poet's matter nature be. 

His art doth give the fashion: and, that he 

Who casts to write a living line, must sweat, 

(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat 

Upon the Muses' anvil; turn the same. 

And himself with it, that he thinks to frame; 

Or for the laurel, he may gain a scorn ; 

For a good poet's made, as well as born. 

And such wert thou! Look how the father's face 

Lives in his issue, even so the race 

Of Shakespeare's mind and manners brightly shines 


In his well turned and true filed lines: 

In each of which he seems to shake a lance. 

As brandish'd at the eyes of ignorance. 

Sweet Swan of Avon ! what a sight it were 

To see thee in our waters yet appear, 

And make those flights upon the banks of Thames, 

That so did take Eliza, and our James ! 

But stay! I see thee in the hemisphere 

Advanced, and made a constellation there! 

Shine forth, thou Star of poets, and with rage, 

Or influence, chide, or cheer the drooping stage, 

Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn'd 

like night. 
And despairs day, but for thy volume's light. 





Of that sort of Dramatic Poem which is called 

RAGEDY, as it was anciently composed, hath 
been ever held the gravest, moralest, and most 
profitable of all other poems ; therefore said by Aris- 
totle to be of power, by raising pity and fear, or terror, 
to purge the mind of those and such like passions, 
that is, to temper and reduce them to just measure 
with a kind of delight, stirred up by reading or seeing 
those passions well imitated. Nor is Nature wanting 
in her own effects to make good his assertion; for so, 
in Physic, things of melancholic hue and quality are 
used against melancholy, sour against sour, salt to 
remove salt humours. Hence philosophers and other 
gravest writers, as Cicero, Plutarch, and others, fre- 
quently cite out of Tragic poets, both to adorn and 
illustrate their discourse. The Apostle Paul himself 
thought it not unworthy to insert a verse of Euripides 
into the text of Holy Scripture, / Cor. xv. 33; and 
Paraeus, commenting on the Revelation, divides the 
whole book, as a tragedy, into acts, distinguished each 
by a Chorus of heavenly harpings and song between. 
Heretofore men in highest dignity have laboured not 
a little to be thought able to compose a tragedy. Of 
that honour Dionysius the elder was no less ambitious 
than before of his attaining to the tyranny. Augustus 
Caesar also had begun his Ajax, but, unable to please 
his own judgement with what he had begun, left it 
unfinished. Seneca the Philosopher is by some thought 
the author of those tragedies (at least the best of them) 
that go under that name. Gregory Nazianzen, a 


Father of the Church, thought it not unbeseeming the 
sanctity of his person to write a tragedy, which he 
entitled Christ Suffering. This is mentioned to vin- 
dicate Tragedy from the small esteem, or rather 
infamy, which in the account of many it undergoes at 
this day, with other common interludes; happening 
through the poets' error of intermixing comic stuff 
with tragic sadness and gravity, or introducing tri- 
vial and vxilgar persons : which by all judicious hath 
been counted absurd, and brought in without dis- 
cretion, corruptly to gratify the people. And though 
ancient Tragedy use no Prologue, yet using sometimes, 
in case of self defence or explanation, that which 
Martial calls an EpL-stle, in behalf of this tragedy, 
coming forth after the ancient manner, much different 
from what among us passes for best, thus much 
beforehand may be epistled: that Chorus is here 
introduced after the Greek manner, not ancient only 
but modern, and still in use among the Italians. 
In the modelling therefore of this poem, with good 
reason, the ancients and Italians are rather followed, 
as of much more authority and fame. The measure 
of verse used in the Chorus is of all sorts, called by 
the Greeks Monostrophic, or rather Apolelymenon, 
without regard had to strophe, antistrophe, or epode; 
which were a kind of stanzas framed only for the 
music, then used with the Chorus that sung, not 
essential to the poem, and therefore not material; 
or being divided into stanzas or pauses, they may be 
called Alloeostropha. Division into Act and Scene, 
referring chiefly to the stage (to which this work 
never was intended), is here omitted. 

It suffices if the whole drama be found not pro- 
duced beyond the fifth act; of the style and uniformity, 
and that commonly called the plot, whether intri- 
cate or explicit — which is nothing indeed but such 
economy or disposition of the fable as may stand best 
with verisimilitude and decorum — they only will best 
judge who are not unacquainted with Aeschylus, 


Sophocles, and Euripides, the three tragic poets un- 
equalled yet by any, and the best rule to all who 
endeavour to write Tragedy. The circumscription of 
time wherein the whole Drama begins and ends, is, 
according to ancient rule and best example, within 
the space of twenty-four hours. 



IT was that memorable day, in the first summer 
of the late war, when our na\y engaged the Dutch 
— a day wherein the two most mighty and best 
appointed fleets which any age had ever seen, dis- 
puted the command of the greater half of the globe, 
the commerce of nations, and the riches ot the 
universe. While these vast floating bodies, on either 
side, moved against each other in parallel lines, and 
our countrymen, under the happy conduct of his 
royal highness, went breaking, by little and little, into 
the line of the enemies ; the noise of the cannon from 
both navies reached our ears about the city, so that 
all men being alarmed with it, and in a dreadful 
suspense of the event, which they knew was dien 
deciding, every one went following the sound as his 
fancy led him; and leaving the town almost empty, 
some took towards the park, some cross the river, 
others down it; all seeking the noise in the depth of 

Among the rest, it was the fortune of Eugenius, Crites, 
Lisideius, and Neander, to be in company together; 
three of them persons whom their wit and quality 
have made known to all the town ; and whom I have 
chose to hide under these borrowed names, that they 
may not suffer by so ill a relation as I am going to 
make of their discourse. 

2. Taking then a barge, which a servant of 
Lisideius had provided for them, they made haste 
to shoot the bridge, and left behind them that great 
fall of waters which hindered them from hearing what 
they desired: after which, having disengaged thern- 
selves from many vessels which rode at anchor in 


the Thames, and almost blocked up the passage 
towards Greenwich, they ordered the watermen to 
let fall their oars more gently; and then, every one 
favouring his own curiosity with a strict silence, it was 
not long ere they perceived the air to break about 
them like the noise of distant thunder, or of swallows 
in a chimney — those little undulations of sound, 
though almost vanishing before they reached them, 
yet still seeming to retain somewhat of their first 
horror, which they had betwixt the fleets. After they 
had attentively listened till such time as the sound by 
little and little went from them. Eugenius, lifting up 
his head, and taking notice of it, was the first who 
congratulated to the rest that happy omen of our 
nation's victory: adding, that we had but this to 
deshe in confirmation of it, that we might hear no 
more of that noise, which was now leaving the English 
coast. When the rest had concurred in the same 
opinion, Crites, a person of a sharp judgement, and 
somewhat too delicate a taste in wit (which the world 
have mistaken in him for ill-nature), said, smiling 
to us, that if the concernment of this battle had not 
been so exceeding great, he could scarce have wished 
the victory at the price he knew he must pay for it, 
in being subject to the reading and hearing of so 
many ill verses as he was sure would be made on 
that subject. Adding, that no argument could escape 
some of those eternal rhymers, who watch a battle 
with more diligence than the ravens and birds of prey; 
and the worst of them surest to be first in upon the 
quarrv' : while the better able, either out of modesty 
writ not at all, or set that due value upon their 
poems, as to let them be often desired and long ex- 
pected. 'There are some of those impertinent people 
of whom you speak,' answered Lisideius, 'who to my 
knowledge are already so provided, either way, that 
they can produce not only a paneg>Tic upon the 
victory, but, if need be, a funeral elegy on the duke; 
wherein, after they have crowned his valour with 


many laurels, they will at last deplore the odds under 
which he fell, concluding that his courage deserved 
a better destiny.' All the company smiled at the 
conceit of Lisideius; but Crites, more eager than 
before, began to make particular exceptions against 
some writers, and said, the public magistrate ought to 
send betimes to forbid them; and that it concerned 
the peace and quiet of all honest people, that ill 
poets should be as well silenced as seditious preachers. 
'In my opinion,' replied Eugenius, 'you pursue your 
point too far; for as to my own particular, I am so 
great a lover of poesy, that I could wish them all 
rewarded, who attempt but to do well; at least, I 
would not have them worse used than one of their 
brethren was by Sylla the Dictator : — Quern in condone 
vidimus (says Tully) cum ei libellum malus poeta de populo 
subjecisset, quod epigramma in eum fecisset tantummodo 
alternis versibus longiusculis, statim ex iis rebus quas tunc 
vendebat jubcre ei praemium tribui, sub ea conditiotie ne quid 
posted scriberet.' 'I could wish with all my heart,' 
replied Crites, 'that many whom we know were as 
bountifully thanked upon the same condition, — that 
they would never trouble us again. For amongst 
others, I have a mortal apprehension of two poets, 
whom this victory, with the help of both her wings, 
will never be able to escape.' ' 'Tis easy to guess 
whom you intend,' said Lisideius; 'and without nam- 
ing them, I ask you, if one of them does not perpetu- 
ally pay us with clenches upon words, and a certain 
clownish kind of raillery' ? if now and then he does not 
offer at a catachresis or Clevelandism, wresting and 
torturing a word into another meaning: in fine, if he 
be not one of those whom the French would call un 
mauvais boujfon; one who is so much a well-wilier to 
the satire, that he intends at least to spare no man; 
and though he cannot strike a blow to hurt any, 
yet he ought to be punished for the malice of the 
action, as our witches are justly hanged, because they 
think themselves to be such; and suffer deservedly lor 


believing they did mischief, because they meant it.* 
'You have described him,' said Crites, 'so exactly, that 
I am afraid to come after you with my other extremity 
of poetry. He is one of those who, having had some 
advantage of education and converse, knows better 
than the other what a poet should be, but puts it 
into practice more unluckily than any man; his style 
and matter are everywhere alike : he is the most calm, 
peaceable writer you ever read: he never disquiets 
your passions with the least concernment, but still 
leaves you in as even a temper as he found you; 
he is a very leveller in poetry: he creeps along with 
ten little words in every line, and helps out his num- 
bers with For to, and Unto, and all the pretty expletives 
he can find, till he drags them to the end of another 
line; while the sense is left tired halfway behind it: 
he doubly starves all his verses, first for want of 
thought, and then of expression; his poetry neither 
has wit in it, nor seems to have it; like him in Martial: 

Pauper videri Cinna vult, et est pauper. 

'He aflfects plainness, to cover his want of imagina- 
tion: when he writes the serious way, the highest 
flight of his fancy is some miserable antithesis, or 
seeming contradiction; and in the comic he is still 
reaching at some thin conceit, the ghost of a jest, and 
that too flies before him, never to be caught; these 
swallows which we see before us on the Thames are 
the just resemblance of his wit: you may observe how 
near the water they stoop, how many proflfers they 
make to dip, and yet how seldom they touch it; and 
when they do, it is but the surface: they skim over it 
but to catch a gnat, and then mount into the air 
and leave it.' 

3. 'Well, gentlemen,' said Eugenius, 'you may 
speak your pleasure of these authors; but though I 
and some few more about the town may give you a 
peaceable hearing, yet assure yourselves, there are 
multitudes who would think you malicious and them 


injured : especially him whom you first described ; he 
is the very Withers of the city: they have bought 
more editions of his works than would serve to lay 
under all their pies at the lord mayor's Christmas. 
When his famous poem first came out in the year 1 660, 
I have seen them reading it in the midst of 'Change 
time; nay, so vehement they were at it, that they 
lost their bargain by the candles' ends ; but what will 
you say, if he has been received amongst great persons? 
I can assure you he is, this day, the envy of one who 
is lord in the art of quibbling; and who does not 
take it well, that any man should intrude so far into 
his province.' 'All I would wish,' replied Crites, 'is, 
that they who love his writings, may still admire 
him, and his fellow poet: Qui Bavium non odit, &.C., is 
curse sufficient.' 'And farther,' added Lisideius, 'I 
believe there is no man who writes well, but would 
think he had hard measure, if their admirers should 
praise anything of his: J^am quos contemnimus, eorum 
quoque laudes contemnimus.' 'There are so few who write 
well in this age,' said Crites, 'that methinks any 
praises should be welcome; they neither rise to the 
dignity of the last age, nor to any of the ancients: 
and we may cry out of the writers of this time, with 
more reason than Petronius of his. Pace vestrd liceat 
dixisse, primi omnium eloquentiam perdidistis: you have 
debauched the true old poetry so far, that Nature, 
which is the soul of it, is not in any of your writings.' 
4. 'If your quarrel,' said Eugenius, 'to those who 
now write, be grounded only on your reverence to 
antiquity, there is no man more ready to adore those 
great Greeks and Romans than I am: but on the 
other side, I cannot think so contemptibly of the age 
in which I live, or so dishonourably of my own 
country, as not to judge we equal the ancients in 
most kinds of poesy, and in some surpass them; 
neither know I any reason why I may not be as 
zealous for the reputation of our age, as we find 
the ancients themselves were in reference to those 


who lived before them. For you hear your Horace 

Indignor quidquam reprehendi, non quia crass/ 
Compositum, illepideve putetur, sed quia nuper. 

And after: 

Si meliora dies, ut vina, poemata reddit, 

Scire velim, pretium chartis quotus arroget annus? 

'But I see I am engaging in a wide dispute, where 
the arguments are not like to reach close on either 
side ; for poesy is of so large an extent, and so many 
both of the ancients and moderns have done well in 
all kinds of it, that in citing one against the other, we 
shall take up more time this evening than each man's 
occasions will allow him : therefore I would ask Crites 
to what part of poesy he would confine his arguments, 
and whether he would defend the general cause of 
the ancients against the moderns, or oppose any age 
of the moderns against this of ours?' 

5. Crites, a little while considering upon this de- 
mand, told Eugenius, that if he pleased, he would 
limit their dispute to Dramatic Poesy; in which he 
thought it not difficult to prove, either that the an- 
cients were superior to the moderns, or the last age 
to this of ours. 

Eugenius was somewhat surprised, when he heard 
Crites make choice of that subject. 'For aught I 
see,' said he, 'I have undertaken a harder province 
than I imagined ; for though I never judged the plays 
of the Greek or Roman poets comparable to ours, 
yet, on the other side, those we now see acted come 
short of many which were written in the last age: 
but my comfort is, if we are overcome, it will be only 
by our own countrymen : and if we yield to them in 
this one part of poesy, we more surpass them in all 
the other: for in the epic or lyric way, it will be 
hard for them to show us one such amongst them, 
as we have many now living, or who lately were: 
they can produce nothing so courtly writ, or which 


expresses so much the conversation of a gentleman, 
as Sir John SuckHng; nothing so even, sweet, and 
flowing, as Mr. Waller; nothing so majestic, so correct, 
as Sir John Denham; nothing so elevated, so copious, 
and full of spirit, as Mr. Cowley. As for the Italian, 
French, and Spanish plays, I can make it evident 
that those who now write surpass them; and that the 
drama is wholly ours.' 

All of them were thus far of Eugenius his opinion, 
that the sweetness of English verse was never under- 
stood or practised by our fathers; even Crites himself 
did not much oppose it: and every one was willing 
to acknowledge how much our poesy is improved by 
the happiness of some writers yet living; who first 
taught us to mould our thoughts into easy and signi- 
ficant words, — to retrench the superfluities of expres- 
sion, — and to make our rhyme so properly a part of 
the verse, that it should never mislead the sense, but 
itself be led and governed by it. 

6. Eugenius was going to continue this discourse, 
when Lisideius told him that it was necessary, before 
they proceeded further, to take a standing measure 
of their controversy; for how was it possible to be 
decided who writ the best plays, before we know 
what a play should be? But, this once agreed on by 
both parties, each might have recourse to it, either 
to prove his own advantages, or to discover the fail- 
ings of his adversary. 

He had no sooner said this, but all desired the 
favour of him to give the definition of a play; and 
they were the more importunate, because neither 
Aristotle, nor Horace, nor any other who had writ of 
that subject, had ever done it. 

Lisideius, after some modest denials, at last con- 
fessed he had a rude notion of it; indeed, rather a 
description than a definition; but which served to 
guide him in his private thoughts, when he was to 
make a judgement of what others writ: that he con- 
ceived a play ought to be, A just and lively image of 


human nature, representing its passions and humours, and 
the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight 
and instruction of mankind. 

This definition, though Crites raised a logical 
objection against it — that it was only a genere et fine, 
and so not altogether perfect — was yet well received 
by the rest: and after they had given order to the 
watermen to turn their barge, and row softly, that 
they might take the cool of the evening in their return, 
Crites, being desired by the company to begin, spoke 
on behalf of the ancients, in this manner : 

'If confidence presage a victory, Eugenius, in his 
own opinion, has already triumphed over the ancients : 
nothing seems more easy to him, than to overcome 
those whom it is our greatest praise to have imitated 
well ; for we do not only build upon their foundations, 
but by their models. Dramatic Poesy had time 
enough, reckoning from Thespis (who first invented 
it) to Aristophanes, to be born, to grow up, and to 
flourish in maturity. It has been observed of arts and 
sciences, that in one and the same century they have 
arrived to great perfection; and no wonder, since 
every age has a kind of universal genius, which in- 
clines those that live in it to some particular studies : 
the work then, being pushed on by many hands, must 
of necessity go forward. 

'Is it not evident, in these last hundred years, when 
the study of philosophy has been the business of all 
the virtuosi in Christendom, that almost a new nature 
has been revealed to us? that more errors of the 
School have been detected, more useful experiments 
in philosophy have been made, more noble secrets 
in optics, medicine, anatomy, astronomy discovered, 
than in all those credulous and doting ages fi-om 
Aristotle to us? — so true it is, that nothing spreads 
more fast than science, when rightly and generally 

'Add to this, the more than common emulation 
that was in those times of writing well ; which though 


it be found in all ages and all persons that pretend to 
the same reputation, yet poesy, being then in more 
esteem than now it is, had greater honours decreed 
to the professors of it, and consequently the rivalship 
was more high between them; they had judges 
ordained to decide their merit, and prizes to reward 
it; and historians have been diligent to record of 
Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Lycophron, and the 
rest of them, both who they were that vanquished in 
these wars of the theatre, and how often they were 
crowned : while the Asian kings and Grecian common- 
wealths scarce afforded them a nobler subject than 
the unmanly luxuries of a debauched court, or giddy 
intrigues of a factious city: Alit aemulatio ingenia 
(says Paterculus), et nunc invidia, nunc admiratio incita- 
tionem accendit: 'emulation is the spur of wit; and 
sometimes envy, sometimes admiration, quickens our 

'But now, since the rewards of honour are taken 
away, that virtuous emulation is turned into direct 
malice; yet so slothful, that it contents itself to con- 
demn and cry down others, without attempting to do 
better: it is a reputation too unprofitable, to take the 
necessary pains for it; yet, wishing they had it, that 
desire is incitement enough to hinder others from it. 
And this, in short, Eugenius, is the reason why you 
have now so few good poets, and so many severe 
judges. Certainly, to imitate the ancients well, much 
labour and long study is required; which pains, I 
have already shown, our poets would want encourage- 
ment to take, if yet they had ability to go through the 
work. Those ancients have been faithful imitators 
and wise observers of that nature which is so torn and 
ill represented in our plays; they have handed down 
to us a perfect resemblance of her; which we, like 
ill copiers, neglecting to look on, have rendered 
monstrous, and disfigured. But, that you may know 
how much you are indebted to those your masters, 
and be ashamed to have so ill requited them, I must 


remember you, that all the rules by which we 
practise the drama at this day, (either such as relate 
to the justness and symmetry of the plot, or the 
episodical ornaments, such as descriptions, narrations, 
and other beauties, which are not essential to the 
play), were delivered to us from the observations 
which Aristotle made of those poets who either lived 
before him, or were his contemporaries: we have 
added nothing of our own, except we have the con- 
fidence to say our wit is better ; of which, none boast 
in this our age, but such as understand not theirs. 
Of that book which Aristotle has left us, Trepl -His 
UoiriTiK-qs, Horace his Art of Poetry is an excellent 
comment, and, I beUeve, restores to us that second 
book of his concerning Comedy, which is wanting 
in him. 

'Out of these two have been extracted the famous 
rules, which the French call Des Trois Unite's, or. The 
Three Unities, which ought to be observed in every 
regular play ; namely, of time, place, and action. 

'The unity of time they comprehend in twenty- 
four hours, the compass of a natural day, or as near 
as it can be contrived ; and the reason of it is obvious 
to every one, — that the time of the feigned action, or 
fable of the play, should be proportioned as near as 
can be to the duration of that time in which it is 
represented: since therefore, all plays are acted on 
the theatre in the space of time much within the 
compass of twenty-four hours, that play is to be 
thought the nearest imitation of nature, whose plot 
or action is confined within that time; and, by the 
same rule which concludes this general proportion 
of time, it follows, that all the parts of it are (as near 
as may be) to be equally subdivided; namely, that 
one act take not up the supposed time of half a day, 
which is out of proportion to the rest; since the other 
four are then to be straightened within the compass 
of the remaining half: for it is unnatural that one act, 
which being spoke or written is not longer than the 


rest, should be supposed longer by the audience; it 
is therefore the poet's duty, to take care that no act 
should be imagined to exceed the time in which it is 
represented on the stage; and that the intervals and 
inequalities of time be supposed to fall out between 
the acts. 

'This rule of time, how well it has been observed 
by the ancients, most of their plays will witness; you 
see them in their tragedies (wherein to follow this 
rule, is certainly most difficult), from the very begin- 
ning of their plays, falling close into that part of the 
story which they intend for the action or principal 
object of it, leaving the former part to be delivered by 
narration: so that they set the audience, as it were, 
at the post where the race is to be concluded; and, 
saving them the tedious expectation of seeing the poet 
set out and ride the beginning of the course, they 
suffer you not to behold him, till he is in sight of the 
goal and, just upon you. 

For the second unity, which is that of place, the 
ancients meant by it, that the scene ought to be con- 
tinued through the play, in the same place where it 
was laid in the beginning: for, the stage on which it 
is represented being but one and the same place, it is 
unnatural to conceive it many, — and those far distant 
from one another. I will not deny but, by the varia- 
tion of painted scenes, the fancy, which in these cases 
will contribute to its own deceit, may sometimes 
imagine it several places, with some appearance of 
probability; yet it still carries the greater likelihood 
of truth, if those places be supposed so near each 
other, as in the same town or city, which may all be 
comprehended under the larger denomination of one 
place; for a greater distance will bear no proportion 
to the shortness of time which is allotted, in the 
acting, to pass from one of them to another; for the 
observation of this, next to the ancients, the French 
are to be most commended. They tie themselves so 
strictly to the unity of place, that you never see in 


any of their plays, a scene changed in the middle of an 
act : if the act begins in a garden, a street, or chamber, 
'tis ended in the same place; and that you may know 
it to be the same, the stage is so supplied with persons, 
that it is never empty all the time: he who enters 
second has business with him who was on before ; and 
before the second quits the stage, a third appears who 
has business with him. This Corneille calls la liaison 
des scenes, the continuity or joining of the scenes; and 
'tis a good mark of a well-contrived play, when all 
the persons are known to each other, and every one 
of them has some affairs with all the rest. 

'As for the third unity, which is that of action, the 
ancients meant no other by it than what the logicians 
do by their ^«w, the end or scope of any action — that 
which is the first in intention, and last in execution: 
now the poet is to aim at one great and complete 
action, to the carrying on of which all things in his 
play, even the very obstacles, are to be subservient; 
and the reason of this is as evident as any of the 
former. For two actions, equally laboured and driven 
on by the writer, would destroy the unity of the 
poem ; it would be no longer one play, but two : not 
but that there may be many actions in a play, as 
Ben Jonson has observed in his Discoveries; but they 
must be all subservient to the great one (which our 
language happily expresses in the name oi under-plots) : 
such as in Terence's Eunuch is the difference and recon- 
cilement of Thais and Phaedria, which is not the chief 
business of the play, but promotes the marriage of 
Chaerea and Chremes's sister, principally intended 
by the poet. There ought to be but one action, says 
Corneille, that is, one complete action, which leaves 
the mind of the audience in a full repose; but this 
cannot be brought to pass but by many other im- 
perfect actions, which conduce to it, and hold the 
audience in a delightful suspense of what will be. 

'If by these rules (to omit many other drawn from 
the precepts and practice of the ancients) we should 


judge our modern plays, 'tis probable that few of 
them would endure the trial: that which should be 
the business of a day, takes up in some of them an age; 
instead of one action, they are the epitomes of a man's 
life; and for one spot of ground, which the stage 
should represent, we are sometimes in more countries 
than the map can show us. 

'But if we allow the ancients to have contrived well, 
we must acknowledge them to have written better. 
Questionless we are deprived of a great stock of wit 
in the loss of Menander among the Greek poets, 
and of Caecilius, Afranius, and Varius, among the 
Romans; we may guess at Menander's excellency 
by the plays of Terence, who translated some of his; 
and yet wanted so much of him, that he was called 
by C. Caesar the half- Menander; and may judge of 
Varius, by the testimonies of Horace, Martial, and 
Velleius Paterculus. 'Tis probable that these, could 
they be recovered, would decide the controversy; 
but so long as Aristophanes and Plautus are extant, 
while the tragedies of Euripides, Sophocles, and 
Seneca, are in our hands, I can never see one of those 
plays which are now written, but it increases my 
admiration of the ancients. And yet I must acknow- 
ledge further, that to admire them as we ought, we 
should understand them better than we do. Doubt- 
less many things appear flat to us, the wit of which 
depended on some custom or story which never came 
to our knowledge; or perhaps on some criticism in 
their language, which being so long dead, and only 
remaining in their books, 'tis not possible they should 
make us understand perfectly. To read Macrobius, 
explaining the propriety and elegancy of many words 
in Virgil, which I had before passed over without 
consideration as common things, is enough to assure 
me that I ought to think the same of Terence ; and 
that in the purity of his style (which Tully so much 
valued that he ever carried his works about him) 
there is yet left in hina great room for admiration, 


if I knew but where to place it. In the meantime 
I must desire you to take notice, that the greatest man 
of the last age, Ben Jonson, was willing to give place 
to them in all things: he was not only a professed 
imitator of Horace, but a learned plagiary of all the 
others; you track him everywhere in their snow: 
if Horace, Lucan, Petronius Arbiter, Seneca, and 
Juvenal, had their own from him, there are few 
serious thoughts which are new in him: you will 
pardon me, therefore, if I presume he loved their 
fashion, when he wore their clothes. But since I have 
otherwise a great veneration for him, and you, 
Eugenius, prefer him above all other poets, I will use 
no further argument to you than his example: I will 
produce before you Father Ben, dressed in all the 
ornaments and colours of the ancients ; you will need 
no other guide to our party, if you follow him ; and 
whether you consider the bad plays of our age, or 
regard the good plays of the last, both the best and 
worst of the modern poets will equally instruct you 
to admire the ancients.' 

Crites had no sooner left speaking, but Eugenius, 
who had waited with some impatience for it, thus 
began : 

'I have observed in your speech, that the former 
part of it is convincing as to what the moderns have 
profited by the rules of the ancients ; but in the latter 
you are careful to conceal how much they have ex- 
celled them ; we own all the helps we have from them, 
and want neither veneration nor gratitude, while we 
acknowledge that, to overcome them, we must make 
use of the advantages we have received from them: 
but to these assistances we have joined our own 
industry; for, had we sat down with a dull imitation 
of them, we might then have lost somewhat of the old 
perfection, but never acquired any that was new. 
We draw not therefore after their lines, but those of 
nature; and having the life before us, besides the 
experience of all they knew, it is no wonder if we hit 


some airs and features which they have missed. I deny 
not what you urge of arts and sciences, that they 
have flourished in some ages more than others; but 
your instance in philosophy makes for me: for if 
natural causes be more known now than in the time 
of Aristotle, because more studied, it follows that 
poesy and other arts may, with the same pains, arrive 
still nearer to perfection; and, that granted, it will 
rest for you to prove that they wrought more perfect 
images of human life than we; which seeing in your 
discourse you have avoided to make good, it shall now 
be my task to show you some part of their defects, 
and some few excellencies of the moderns. And I 
think there is none among us can imagine I do it 
enviously, or with purpose to detract from them; for 
what interest of fame or profit can the living lose by 
the reputation of the dead? On the other side, it is 
a great truth which Velleius Paterculus affirms: 
Audita visis libentius laudamus; et praesentia invidia, 
praeterita admiratione prosequimur; et his nos obrui, illis 
instrui credimus: that praise or censure is certainly the 
most sincere, which unbribed posterity shall give us. 

'Be pleased then in the first place to take notice, 
that the Greek poesy, which Crites has afiirmed to 
have arrived to perfection in the reign of the old 
comedy, was so far from it, that the distinction of it 
into acts was not known to them; or if it were, it is yet 
so darkly delivered to us that we cannot make it out. 

'AH we know of it is, from the singing of their 
Chorus; and that too is so uncertain, that in some of 
their plays we have reason to conjecture they sung 
more than five times. Aristotle indeed divides the 
integral parts of a play into four. First, the Protasis, 
or entrance, which gives light only to the characters 
of the persons, and proceeds very little into any part of 
the action. Secondly, the Epitasis, or working up of the 
plot; where the play grows warmer, the design or 
action of it is drawing on, and you see something 
promising that it will come to pass. Thirdly, the 


Catastasis, called by the Romans, Status, the height 
and full growth of the play : we may call it properly 
the counterturn, which destroys that expectation, 
embroils the action in new difficulties, and leaves you 
far distant from that hope in which it found you; as 
you may have observed in a violent stream resisted 
by a narrow passage, — it runs round to an eddy, and 
carries back the waters with more swiftness than it 
brought them on. Lastly, the Catastrophe, which the 
Grecians called Alberts, the French le denouement, and 
we the discovery, or unravelling of the plot: there 
you see all things settling again upon their first 
foundations; and, the obstacles which hindered the 
design or action of the play once removed, it ends 
with that resemblance of truth and nature, that the 
audience are satisfied with the conduct of it. Thus 
this great man delivered to us the image of a play; 
and I must confess it is so lively, that from thence 
much light has been derived to the forming it more 
perfectly into acts and scenes: but what poet first 
limited to five the number of the acts, I know not; 
only we see it so firmly established in the time cf 
Horace, that he gives it for a rule in comedy, Neu 
brevior quinto, neu sit productior actu. So that you see the 
Grecians cannot be said to have consummated this 
art; writing rather by entrances, than by acts, and 
having rather a general indigested notion of a play, 
than knowing how and where to bestow the particular 
graces of it. 

'But since the Spaniards at this day allow but three 
acts, which they call Jornadas, to a play, and the 
Italians in many of theirs follow them, when I 
condemn the ancients, I declare it is not altogether 
because they have not five acts to every play, but 
because they have not confined themselves to one 
certain number: it is building a house without a 
model; and when they succeeded in such under- 
takings, they ought to have sacrificed to Fortune, 
not to the Muses. 


'■ 'Next, for the plot, which Aristotle called to ^vdos, 
^nd often riov Trpayfidrcov amdeai?, and from him the 
Romans Fabula; it has already been judiciously 
observed by a late writer, that in their tragedies it 
was only some tale derived from Thebes or Troy, or 
at least something that happened in those two ages; 
which was worn so threadbare by the pens of all the 
epic poets, and even by tradition itself of the talkative 
Greeklings (as Ben Jonson calls them), that before 
it came upon the stage, it was already known to all 
the audience: and the people, so soon as ever they 
heard the name of Oedipus, knew as well as the poet, 
that he had killed his father by a mistake, and com- 
mitted incest with his mother, before the play; that 
they were now to hear of a great plague, an oracle, 
and the ghost of Laius : so that they sat with a yawning 
kind of expectation, till he was to come with his eyes 
pulled out, and speak a hundred or more verses in 
a tragic tone, in complaint of his misfortunes. But 
one Oedipus, Hercules, or Medea, had been tolerable : 
poor people, they escaped not so good cheap ; they had 
still the chapon bouille set before them, till their appe- 
tites were cloyed with the same dish, and, the novelty 
being gone, the pleasure vanished; so that one main 
end of Dramatic Poesy in its definition, which was to 
cause delight, was of consequence destroyed. 

'In their comedies, the Romans generally bor- 
rowed their plots from the Greek poets; and theirs 
was commonly a little girl stolen or wandered from 
her parents, brought back unknown to the city, there 
[falling into the hands of] some young fellow, who, 
by the help of his servant, cheats his father; and when 
her time comes, to cry, Juno Lucina, fer opem, one or 
other sees a little box or cabinet which was carried 
away with her, and so discovers her to her friends, 
if some god do not prevent it, by coming down in a 
machine, and taking the thanks of it to himself. 

'By the plot you may guess much of the characters 
of the persons. An old father, who would willingly. 


before he dies, see his son well married ; his debauched 
son, kind in his nature to his mistress, but miserably 
in want of money; a servant or slave, who has so 
much wit to strike in with him, and help to dupe his 
father; a braggadocio captain, a parasite, and a lady 
of pleasure. 

'As for the poor honest maid, on whom the story is 
built, and who ought to be one of the principal actors 
in the play, she is commonly a mute in it : she has the 
breeding of the old Elizabeth way, which was for 
maids to be seen and not to be heard ; and it is enough 
you know she is willing to be married when the fifth 
act requires it. 

'These are plots built after the Italian mode of 
houses, — you see through them all at once: the 
characters are indeed the imitation of nature, but 
so narrow, as if they had imitated only an eye or an 
hand, and did not dare to venture on the lines of a 
face, or the proportion of a body. 

'But in how straight a compass soever they have 
bounded their plots and characters, we will pass it 
by, if they have regularly pursued them, and per- 
fectly observed those three unities of time, place, and 
action ; the knowledge of which you say is derived 
to us from them. But in the first place give me leave 
to tell you, that the unity of place, however it might 
be practised by them, was never any of their rules : we 
neither find it in Aristotle, Horace, or any who have 
written of it, till in our age the French poets first made 
it a precept of the stage. The unity of time, even 
Terence himself, who was the best and most regular 
of them, has neglected: his Heautonlimorumenos, or 
Self-Punisher, takes up visibly two days, says Scaliger; 
the two first acts concluding the first day, the three 
last the day ensuing; and Euripides, in tying himself 
to one day, has committed an absurdity never to be 
forgiven him ; for in one of his tragedies he has made 
Theseus go from Athens to Thebes, which was about 
forty EngUsh miles, under the walls of it to give battle. 


and appear victorious in the next act; and yet, from 
the time of his departure to the return of the Nuntius, 
who gives the relation of his victory, Aethra and the 
chorus have but thirty-six verses; which is not for 
every mile a verse. 

'The like error is as evident in Terence his Eunuch, 
when Laches, the old man, enters by mistake into the 
house of Thais; where, betwixt his exit and the 
entrance of Pythias, who comes to give ample relation 
of the disorders he has raised within, Parmeno, who 
was left upon the stage, has not above five lines to 
speak. C^est bien employer un temps si court, says the 
French poet, who furnished me with one of the 
observations : and almost all their tragedies will afford 
us examples of the like nature. 

*It is true they have kept the continuity, or, as you 
called it, liaison des scenes, somewhat better: two do 
not perpetually come in together, talk, and go out 
together; and other two succeed them, and do the 
same throughout the act, which the English call by 
the name of single scenes ; but the reason is, because 
they have seldom above two or three scenes, properly 
so called, in every act ; for it is to be accounted a new 
scene, not only every time the stage is empty; but 
every person who enters, though to others, makes it 
so; because he introduces a new business. Now the 
plots of their plays being narrow, and the persons 
few, one of their acts was written in a less compass 
than one of our well-wrought scenes; and yet they 
are often deficient even in this. To go no further 
than Terence; you find in the Eunuch, Antipho enter- 
ing single in the midst of the third act, after Chremes 
and Pythias were gone off; in the same play you have 
likewise Dorias beginning the fourth act alone; and 
after she had made a relation of what was done at 
the Soldier's entertainment (which by the way was 
very inartificial, because she was presumed to speak 
directly to the audience, and to acquaint them with 
what was necessary to be known, but yet should have 


been so contrived by the poet as to have been told by 
persons of the drama to one another, and so by them 
to have come to the knowledge of the people), she 
quits the stage, and Phaedria enters next, alone like- 
wise : he also gives you an account of himself, and of 
his returning from the country, in monologue; to 
which unnatural way of narration Terence is subject 
in all his plays. In his Adelphi, or brothers, Syrus and 
Demea enter after the scene was broken by the de- 
parture of Sostrata, Geta, and Canthara; and indeed 
you can scarce look into any of his comedies, where 
you will not presently discover the same interruption. 

'But as they have failed both in laying of their plots, 
and in the management, swerving from the rules of 
their own art by misrepresenting nature to us, in 
which they have ill satisfied one intention of a play, 
which was delight; so in the instructive part they 
have erred worse : instead of punishing vice and re- 
warding virtue, they have often shown a prosperous 
wickedness, and an unhappy piety: they have set 
before us a bloody image of revenge in Medea, and 
given her dragons to convey her safe from punish- 
ment; a Priam and Astyanax murdered, and Cas- 
sandra ravished, and the lust and murder ending in 
the victory of him who acted them : in short, there is 
no indecorum in any of our modern plays, which if I 
would excuse, I could not shadow with some authority 
from the ancients. 

'And one further note of them let me leave you: 
tragedies and comedies were not writ then as they 
are now, promiscuously, by the same person; but he 
who found his genius bending to the one, never 
attempted the other way. This is so plain, that I 
need not instance to you, that Aristophanes, Plautus, 
Terence, never any of them writ a tragedy; Aeschylus, 
Euripides, Sophocles, and Seneca, never meddled 
with comedy: the sock and buskin were not worn by 
the same poet. Having then so much care to excel 
in one kind, very little is to be pardoned them, if 


they miscarried in it ; and this would lead me to the 
consideration of their wit, had not Crites given me 
sufficient warning not to be too bold in my judgement 
of it; because, the languages being dead, and many 
of the customs and little accidents on which it de- 
pended lost to us, we are not competent judges of it. 
But though I grant that here and there we may miss 
the application of a proverb or a custom, yet a thing 
well said will be wit in all languages; and though it 
may lose something in the translation, yet to him 
who reads it in the original, 'tis still the same : he has 
an idea of its excellency, though it cannot pass from 
his mind into any other expression or words than 
those in which he finds it. When Phaedria, in the 
Eunuch, had a command from his mistress to be 
absent two days, and, encouraging himself to go 
through with it, said, Tandem ego non ilia caream, si sit 
opus, vel totum triduum ? Parmeno, to mock the softness 
of his master, lifting up his hands and eyes, cries out, 
as it were in admiration, Hui ! universum triduum ! the 
elegancy of which universum, though it cannot be 
rendered in our language, yet leaves an impression 
on our souls: but this happens seldom in him; in 
Plautus oftener, who is infinitely too bold in his meta- 
phors and coining words, out of which many times 
his wit is nothing; which questionless was one reason 
why Horace falls upon him so severely in those verses : 

Sed proavi nostri Plautinos et numeros et 
Laudavere sales, nimium patienter utrumque, 
Ne dicam stolidL 

For Horace himself was cautious to obtrude a new 
word on his readers, and makes custom and common 
use the best measure of receiving it into our writings: 

Malta renascentur quae nunc [lam] cecidere, cadentque 
Quae nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus. 
Quern penes arbitrium est, et ius, et norma loquendi. 

'The not observing this rule is that which the world 
has blamed in our satirist, Cleveland: to express a 


thing hard and unnaturally, is his new way of elocu- 
tion. 'Tis true, no poet but may sometimes use a 
catachresis : Virgil does it : — 

Mistaque ridenti colocasia fundet acantho — 

in his eclogue of Pollio; and in his seventh Aeneid, 

mirantur et undae, 

Miratur nemus insuetum fulgentia longe 
Scuta virum fluvio pictasque innare carinas. 

And Ovid once so modestly that he asks leave to 
do it: 

quern, si verba audacia detur, 

Hand metuam summi dixisse Palatia caeli, 

calling the court of Jupiter by the name of Augustus 
his palace; though in another place he is more bold, 
where he says, et longas visent Capitolia pampas. But to 
do this always, and never be able to write a line 
without it, though it may be admired by some few 
pedants, will not pass upon those who know that wit 
is best conveyed to us in the most easy language ; and 
is most to be admired when a great thought comes 
dressed in words so commonly received that it is 
understood by the meanest apprehensions, as the best 
meat is the most easily digested : but we cannot read 
a verse of Cleveland's without making a face at it, as if 
every word were a pill to swallow : he gives us many 
times a hard nut to break our teeth, without a kernel 
for our pains. So that there is this difference betwixt 
his satires and Doctor Donne's ; that the one gives us 
deep thoughts in common language, though rough 
cadence; the other gives us common thoughts in 
abstruse words: 'tis true, in some places his wit is 
independent of his words, as in that of the Rebel Scot: 

Had Cain been Scot, God would have chang'd his doom; 
Not forc'd him wander, but confin'd him home. 

'Si sic omnia dixisset ! This is wit in all languages: 


it is like mercury, never to be lost or killed : — and so 

that other — 

For beauty, like white powder, makes no noise, 
And yet the silent hypocrite destroys. 

You see, the last line is highly metaphorical, but it is 
so soft and gentle, that it does not shock us as we 
read it. 

'But to return from whence I have digressed, to the 
consideration of the ancients' writing, and their wit 
(of which by this time you will grant us in some 
measure to be fit judges). Though I see many excel- 
lent thoughts in Seneca, yet he of them who had a 
genius most proper for the stage, was Ovid; he had 
a way of writing so fit to stir up a pleasing admiration 
and concernment, which are the objects of a tragedy, 
and to show the various movements of a soul combat- 
ing betwixt two different passions, that, had he lived 
in our age, or in his own could have writ with our 
advantages, no man but must have yielded to him ; and 
therefore I am confident the Medea is none of his : for, 
though I esteem it for the gravity and sententiousness 
of it, which he himself concludes to be suitable to a 
tragedy, — Omne genus scripti gravitate tragoedia vincit, — 
yet it moves not my soul enough to judge that he, 
who in the epic way wrote things so near the drama 
as the story of Myrrha, of Caunus and Biblis, and 
the rest, should stir up no more concernment where 
he most endeavoured it. The masterpiece of Seneca 
I hold to be that scene in the Troades, where Ulysses 
is seeking for .^styanax to kill him : there you see the 
tenderness of a mother so represented in Andromache 
that it raises compassion to a high degree in the 
reader, and bears the nearest resemblance of anything 
in the tragedies of the ancients to the excellent scenes 
of passion in Shakespeare, or in Fletcher: for love 
scenes, you will find few among them; their tragic 
poets dealt not with that soft passion, but with lust, 
cruelty, revenge, ambition, and those bloody actions 


they produced; which were more capable of raising 
horror than compassion in an audience: leaving love 
untouched, whose gentleness would have tempered 
them ; which is the most frequent of all the passions, 
and which, being the private concernment of every 
person, is soothed by viewing its own image in a public 

'Among their comedies, we find a scene or two of 
tenderness, and that where you would least expect it, 
in Plautus; but to speak generally, their lovers say 
little, when they see each other, but anima mea, vita 
mea; Zw-fj Kal ipvxr}, as the women in Juvenal's time 
used to cry out in the fury of their kindness. Any 
sudden gust of passion (as an ecstasy of love in an 
unexpected meeting) cannot better be expressed than 
in a word and a sigh, breaking one another. Nature 
is dumb on such occasions; and to make her speak, 
would be to represent her unlike herself. But there 
are a thousand other concernments of lovers, as 
jealousies, complaints, contrivances, and the like, 
where not to open their minds at large to each other 
were to be wanting to their own love, and to the 
expectation of the audience; who watch the move- 
ments of their minds, as much as the changes of their 
fortunes. For the imaging of the first is properly 
the work of a poet; the latter he borrows from the 

Eugenius was proceeding in that part of his dis- 
course, when Crites interrupted him. 'I see,' said he, 
'Eugenius and I are never like to have this question 
decided betwixt us; for he maintains the moderns 
have acquired a new perfection in writing; I can only 
grant they have altered the mode of it. Homer de- 
scribed his heroes men of great appetites, lovers of 
beef broiled upon the coals, and good fellows ; con- 
trary to the practice of the French Romances, whose 
heroes neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, for love. 
Virgil makes Aeneas a bold avower of his own virtues: 
Sum pius Aeneas, fama super aethera notus; 


which, in the civility of our poets, is the character of 
a fanfaron or Hector: for with us the knight takes 
occasion to walk out, or sleep, to avoid the vanity of 
telling his own story, which the trusty squire is ever 
to perform for him. So in their love scenes, of which 
Eugenius spoke last, the ancients were more hearty, 
we more talkative: they writ love as it was then the 
mode to make it; and I will grant thus much to 
Eugenius, that perhaps one of their poets, had he 
lived in our age, si foret hoc nostrum fato delapsus in 
aevum (as Horace says of Lucilius), he had altered 
many things; not that they were not natural before, 
but that he might accommodate himself to the age in 
which he lived. Yet in the mean time we are not to 
conclude anything rashly against those great men, 
but preserve to them the dignity of masters, and give 
that honour to their memories, quos Libitinasacravit, part 
of which we expect may be paid to us in future times.' 

This moderation of Crites, as it was pleasing to all 
the company, so it put an end to that dispute ; which 
Eugenius, who seemed to have the better of the argu- 
ment, would urge no farther; but Lisideius, after he 
had acknowledged himself of Eugenius his opinion 
concerning the ancients, yet told him, he had for- 
borne, till his discourse were ended, to ask him why 
he preferred the English plays above those of other 
nations? and whether we ought not to submit our 
stage to the exactness of our next neighbours ? 

'Though,' said Eugenius, T am at all times ready 
to defend the honour of my country against the 
French, and to maintain we are as well able to van- 
quish them with our pens, as our ancestors have been 
with their swords; yet, if you please,' added he, look- 
ing upon Neander, 'I will commit this cause to my 
friend's management ; his opinion of our plays is the 
same with mine: and besides, there is no reason that 
Crites and I, who have now left the stage, should re- 
enter so suddenly upon it; which is against the laws 
of comedy.' 


'If the question had been stated,' replied Lisifleius, 
'who had writ best, the French or English, forty years 
ago, I should have been of your opinion, and adjudged 
the honour to our own nation; but since that time,' 
(said he, turning towards Neander), 'we have been 
so long together bad Englishmen, that we had not 
leisure to be good poets. Beaumont, Fletcher, and 
lonson (who were only capable of bringing us to that 
degree of perfection which we have), were just then 
leaving the world ; as if in an age of so much horror, 
wit, and those milder studies of humanity, had no 
further business among us. But the Muses, who ever 
follow peace, went to plant in another country: it 
was then, that the great Cardinal of Richelieu began 
to take them into his protection; and that, by his 
encouragement, Corneille, and some other French- 
men, reformed their theatre (which before was as 
much below ours, as it now surpasses it and the rest 
of Europe). But because Crites in his discourse for 
the ancients has prevented me, by observing many 
rules of the stage which the moderns have borrowed 
from them, I shall only, in short, demand of you, 
whether you are not convinced that of all nations the 
French have best observed them? In the unity of 
time you find them so scrupulous, that it yet remains 
a dispute among their poets, whether the artificial day 
of twelve hours, more or less, be not meant by Aristotle, 
rather than the natural one of twenty-four ; and con- 
sequently, whether all plays ought not to be reduced 
into that compass. This I can testify, that in all their 
dramas writ within these last twenty years and up- 
wards, I have not observed any that have extended 
the time to thirty hours: in the unity of place they are 
full as scrupulous ; for many of their critics limit it to 
that very spot of ground where the play is supposed 
to begin; none of them exceed the compass of the 
same town or city. The unity of action in all plays is 
yet more conspicuous; for they do not burden them 
with underplots, as the English do : which is the reason 

240 F 


why many scenes of our tragi-comedies carry on a 
design that is nothing of kin to the main plot; and that 
we see two distinct webs in a play, like those in ill- 
wrought stuffs; and two actions, that is, two plays, 
carried on together, to the confounding of the audi- 
ence; who, before they are warm in their concern- 
ments for one part, are diverted to another; and by 
that means espouse the interest of neither. From 
hence likewise it arises, that the one half of our actors 
are not known to the other. They keep their distances, 
as if they were Montagues and Capulets, and seldom 
begin an acquaintance till the last scene of the fifth 
act, when they are all to meet upon the stage. There 
is no theatre in the world has anything so absurd as the 
English tragi-comedy; 'tis a drama of our own inven- 
tion, and the fashion of it is enough to proclaim it so; 
here a course of mirth, there another of sadness and 
passion, and a third of honour and a duel : thus, in 
two hours and a half, we run through all the fits of 
Bedlam. The French affords you as much variety on 
the same day, but they do it not so unseasonably, or 
mai a propos, as we : our poets present you the play and 
the farce together; and our stages still retain some- 
what of the original civility of the Red Bull : 

Atque ursum et pugiles media inter carmina poscunt. 

The end of tragedies or serious plays, says Aristotle, 
is to beget admiration, compassion or concernment; 
but are not mirth and compassion things incom- 
patible? and is it not evident that the poet must of 
necessity destroy the former by intermingling of the 
latter? that is, he must ruin the sole end and object 
of his tragedy to introduce somewhat that is forced 
into it, and is not of the body of it. Would you not 
think that physician mad, who, having prescribed a 
purge, should immediately order you to take restrin- 

'But to leave our plays, and return to theirs. I have 
noted one great advantage they have had in the 


plotting of their tragedies; that is, they are always 
grounded upon some known history: according to 
that of Horace, Ex notofictum carmen sequar; and in that 
they have so imitated the ancients that they have 
surpassed them. For the ancients, as was observed 
before, took for the foundation of their plays some 
poetical fiction, such as under that consideration 
could move but little concernment in the audience, 
because they already knew the event of it. But the 
French goes farther: 

Atque ita mentitur, sic veris falsa remiscet, 
Primo ne medium, medio ne discrepet imum. 

He so interweaves truth with probable fiction that 
he puts a pleasing fallacy upon us ; mends the intrigues 
of fate, and dispenses with the severity of history, to 
reward that virtue which has been rendered to us 
there unfortunate. Soinetimes the story has left the 
success so doubtful, that the writer is free, by the 
privilege of a poet, to take that which of two or more 
relations will best suit with his design: as for example, 
in the death of Cyrus, whom Justin and some others 
report to have perished in the Scythian war, but 
Xenophon affirms to have died in his bed of extreme 
old age. Nay more, when the event is past dispute, 
even then we are willing to be deceived, and the poet, 
if he contrives it with appearance of truth, has all the 
audience of his party; at least during the time his play 
is acting : so naturally we are kind to virtue, when our 
own interest is not in question, that we take it up as 
the general concernment of mankind. On the other 
side, if you consider the historical plays of Shakespeare, 
they are rather so many chronicles of kings, or the 
business many times of thirty or forty years, cramped 
into a representation of two hours and a half; which 
is not to imitate or paint nature, but rather to draw 
her in miniature, to take her in little; to look upon her 
through the wrong end of a perspective, and receive 
her images not only much less, but infinitely more 


imperfect than the life : this, instead of making a play 
delightful, renders it ridiculous: — 

Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi. 

For the spirit of man cannot be satisfied but with 
truth, or at least verisimility; and a poem is to con- 
tain, if not TO. eTVfxa, yet eVu/xoiatv o/xoia, as one of the 
Greek poets has expressed it. 

'Another thing in which the French differ from us 
and from the Spaniards is, that they do not embarrass 
or cumber themselves with too much plot; they only 
represent so much of a story as will constitute one 
whole and great action sufficient for a play; we, who 
undertake more, do but multiply adventures ; which, 
not being produced from one another, as effects from 
causes, but barely following, constitute many actions 
in the drama, and consequently make it many plays. 

'But by pursuing closely one argument, which is 
not cloyed with many turns, the French have gained 
more liberty for verse, in which they write ; they have 
leisure to dwell on a subject which deserves it; and to 
represent the passions (which we have acknowledged 
to be the poet's work), without being hurried from 
one thing to another, as we are in the plays of Calderon, 
which we have seen lately upon our theatres, under 
the name of Spanish plots. I have taken notice but of 
one tragedy of ours, whose plot has that uniformity 
and unity of design in it which I have commended 
in the French; and that is Rollo, or rather, under the 
name of Rollo, the Story of Bassianus and Geta in 
Herodian: there indeed the plot is neither large nor 
intricate, but just enough to fill the minds of the 
audience, not to cloy them. Besides, you see it founded 
upon the truth of history, — only the time of the action 
is not reduceable to the strictness of the rules; and you 
see in some places a little farce mingled, which is 
below the dignity of the other parts ; and in this aU 
our poets are extremely peccant: even Ben Jonson 
himself, in Sejanus and Catiline, has given us this oleo 


of a play, this unnatural mixture of comedy and 
tragedy; which to me sounds just as ridiculously as 
the history of David with the merry humours of Golia's. 
In Sejanus you may take notice of the scene betwixt 
Livia and the physician, which is a pleasant satire 
upon the artificial helps of beauty : in Catiline you may 
see the parliament of women; the little envies of them 
to one another; and all that passes betwixt Curio and 
Fulvia : scenes admirable in their kind, but of an ill 
mingle with the rest. 

'But I return again to the French writers, who, as I 
have said, do not burden themselves too much with 
plot, which has been reproached to them by an in- 
genious person of our nation as a fault; for, he says, 
they commonly make but one person considerable in 
a play; they dwell on him and his concernments, 
while the rest of the persons are only subservient to 
set him off. If he intends this by it — that there is one 
person in the play who is of greater dignity than the 
rest, he must tax, not only theirs, but those of the 
ancients, and (which he would be loth to do) the best 
of ours ; for it is impossible but that one person must 
be more conspicuous in it than any other, and conse- 
quently the greatest share in the action must devolve 
on him. We see it so in the management of all affairs; 
even in the most equal aristocracy the balance cannot 
be so justly poised, but some one will be superior to 
the rest, either in parts, fortune, interest, or the con- 
sideration of some glorious exploit; which will reduce 
the greatest part of business into his hands. 

'But, if he would have us to imagine that in exalting 
one character the rest of them are neglected, and that 
all of them have not some share or other in the action 
of the play, I desire him to produce any of Corneille's 
tragedies, wherein every person, like so many servants 
in a well-governed family, has not some employment, 
and who is not necessary to the carrying on of the 
plot, or at least to your understanding it. 

'There are indeed some protatic persons in the 


ancients, whom they make use of in their plays, either 
to hear or give the relation: but the French avoid this 
with great address, making their narrations only to 
or by such, who are some way interested in the main 
design. And now I am speaking of relations, I cannot 
take a fitter opportunity to add this in favour of the 
French, that they often use them with better judge- 
ment and more a propos than the English do. Not that 
I commend narrations in general — but there are two 
sorts of them. One, of those things which are ante- 
cedent to the play, and are related to make the con- 
duct of it more clear to us. But 'tis a fault to choose 
such subjects for the stage as will force us on that rock, 
because we see they are seldom listened to by the 
audience, and that is many times the ruin of the play; 
for, being once let pass without attention, the audience 
can never recover themselves to understand the plot: 
and indeed it is somewhat unreasonable that they 
should be put to so much trouble, as that, to compre- 
hend what passes in their sight, they must have re- 
course to what was done, perhaps, ten or twenty years 

'But there is another sort of relations, that is, of 
things happening in the action of the play, and sup- 
posed to be done behind the scenes ; and this is many 
times both convenient and beautiful; for by it the 
French avoid the tumult to which we are subject in 
England by representing duels, battles, and the like; 
which renders our stage too like the theatres where 
they fight prizes. For what is more ridiculous than to 
represent an army with a drum and five men behind 
it; all which the hero of the other side is to drive in 
before him; or to see a duel fought, and one slain with 
two or three thrusts of the foils, which we know are so 
blunted, that we might give a man an hour to kill 
another in good earnest with them. 

'I have observed that in all our tragedies the audi- 
ence cannot forbear laughing when the actors are to 
die; it is the most comic part of the whole play. All 


passions may be lively represented on the stage, if to 
the well-writing of them the actor supplies a good 
commanded voice, and limbs that move easily, and 
without stiffness ; but there are many actions which can 
never be imitated to a just height : dying especially is 
a thing which none but a Roman gladiator could 
naturally perform on the stage, when he did not imi- 
tate or represent, but do it; and therefore it is better 
to omit the representation of it. 

'The words of a good writer, which describe it 
lively, will make a deeper impression of belief in us 
than all the actor can insinuate into us, when he seems 
to fall dead before us; as a poet in the description 
of a beautiful garden, or a meadow, will please our 
imagination more than the place itself can please our 
sight. When we see death represented, we are con- 
vinced it is but fiction; but when we hear it related, 
our eyes, the strongest witnesses, are wanting, which 
might have undeceived us; and we are all willing to 
favour the sleight, when the poet does not too grossly 
impose on us. They therefore who imagine these rela- 
tions would make no concernment in the audience, 
are deceived, by confounding them with the other, 
which are of things antecedent to the play : those are 
made often in cold blood, as I may say, to the audience; 
but these are warmed with our concernments, which 
were before awakened in the play. What the philo- 
sophers say of motion, that, when it is once begun, it 
continues of itself, and will do so to eternity, without 
some stop put to it, is clearly true on this occasion : the 
soul, being already moved with the characters and 
fortunes of those imaginary persons, continues going 
of its own accord ; and we are no more weary to hear 
what becomes of them when they are not on the stage 
than we are to listen to the news of an absent mistress. 
But it is objected, that if one part of the play may be 
related, then why not all? I answer, some parts of the 
action are more fit to be represented, some to be re- 
lated. Corneille says judiciously, that the poet is not 


obliged to expose to view all particular actions which 
conduce to the principal: he ought to select such of 
them to be seen, which will appear with the greatest 
beauty, either by the magnificence of the show, or the 
vehemence of passions which they produce, or some 
other charm which they have in them; and let the 
rest arrive to the audience by narration. 'Tis a great 
mistake in us to believe the French present no part of 
the action on the stage; every alteration or crossing 
of a design, every new-sprung passion and turn of it, 
is a part of the action, and much the noblest, except 
we conceive nothing to be action till the players come 
to blows ; as if the painting of the hero's mind were 
not more properly the poet's work than the strength 
of his body. Nor does this anything contradict the 
opinion of Horace, where he tells us, 

Segnius irritant ariimos demissa per aurem, 
Quam quae sunt oculis subiecta fidelibus. 

For he says immediately after, 

Non tamen intus 

Digna geri promes in scenam; multaq ; tolles 
Ex oculis, quae mox narret facundia praesens. 

Among which 'many' he recounts some : 

Js'ec pueros coram populo Medea trucidet, 

Aut in avem Progne mutetur, Cadmus in anguem; &c. 

That is, those actions which by reason of their cruelty 
will cause aversion in us, or by reason of their impossi- 
bility, unbelief, ought either wholly to be avoided by 
a poet, or only delivered by narration. To which we 
may have leave to add, such as, to avoid tumult (as 
was before hinted), or to reduce the plot into a more 
reasonable compass of time, or for defect of beauty in 
them, are rather to be related than presented to the 
eye. Examples of all these kinds are frequent, not only 
-imong all the ancients, but in the best received of our 
English poets. We find Ben Jonson using them in his 
Magnetic Lady, where one comes out from dinner, and 


relates the quarrels and disorders of it, to save the 
undecent appearance of them on the stage, and to 
abbreviate the story; and this in express imitation of 
Terence, who had done the same before him in his 
Eunuch, where Pythias makes the like relation of what 
had happened within at the soldier's entertainment. 
The relations hkewise of Sejanus's death, and the 
prodigies before it, are remarkable; the one of which 
was hid from sight, to avoid the horror and tumult of 
the representation ; the other, to shun the introducing 
of things impossible to be believed. In that excellent 
play, The King and no King, Fletche/ goes yet farther ; 
for the whole unravelling of the plot is done by narra- 
tion in the fifth act, after the manner of the ancients ; 
and it moves great concernment in the audience, 
though it be only a relation of what was done many 
years before the play. I could multiply other instances, 
but these are sufficient to prove that there is no error 
in choosing a subject which requires this sort of narra- 
tions ; in the ill management of them, there may. 

'But I find I have been too long in this discourse, 
since the French have many other excellencies not 
common to us ; as that you never see any of their plays 
end with a conversion, or simple change of will, which 
is the ordinary way which our poets use to end theirs. 
It shows little art in the conclusion of a dramatic 
poem, when they who have hindered the felicity dur- 
ing the four acts, desist from it in the fifth, without 
some powerful cause to take them off their design; 
and though I deny not but such reasons may be 
found, yet it is a path that is cautiously to be trod, and 
the poet is to be sure he convinces the audience that 
the motive is strong enough. As, for example, the 
conversion of the Usurer in The Scornful Lady, seems to 
me a little forced ; for, being an Usurer, which implies 
a lover of money to the highest degree of covetous- 
ness — and such the poet has represented him — the 
account he gives for the sudden change is, that he 
has been duped by the wild young fellow; which in 


reason might render him more wary another time, 
and make him punish himself with harder fare and 
coarser clothes, to get up again what he had lost: but 
that he should look on it as a judgement, and so repent, 
we may expect to hear in a sermon, but I should never 
endure it in a play. 

'I pass by this; neither will I insist on the care they 
take, that no person after his first entrance shall ever 
appear, but the business which brings him upon the 
stage shall be evident; which rule, if observed, must 
needs render all the events in the play more natural; 
for there you see the probability of every accident, in 
the cause that produced it; and that which appears 
chance in the play, will seem so reasonable to you, 
that you will there find it almost necessary: so that in 
the exit of the actor you have a clear account of his 
purpose and design in the next entrance (though, if 
the scene be well wrought, the event will commonly 
deceive you) ; for there is nothing so absurd, says 
Corneille, as for an actor to leave the stage, only be- 
cause he has no more to say. 

'I should now speak of the beauty of their rhyme, 
and the just reason I have to prefer that way of 
writing in tragedies before ours in blank verse; but 
because it is partly received by us, and therefore not 
altogether peculiar to them, I will say no more of it 
in relation to their plays. For our own, I doubt not 
but it will exceedingly beautify them; and I can see 
but one reason why it should not generally obtain, 
that is, because our poets write so ill in it. This in- 
deed may prove a more prevailing argument than all 
others which are used to destroy it, and therefore I 
am only troubled when great and judicious poets, and 
those who are acknowledged such, have written or 
spoke against it : as for others, they are to be answered 
by that one sentence of an ancient author: Sed ut prima 
ad consequendos eos quos priores ducimus, accendimur, ita ubi 
aut praeteriri, aut aequari eos posse desperavimus, studium 
cum spe senescit: quod, scilicet, assequi nan potest, sequi 


desinit; . . . praeteritoque eo in quo eminere non possumus, 
aliquid in quo nitamur, conquirimus.' 

Lisideius concluded in this manner; and Neander, 
after a little pause, thus answered him: 

'I shall grant Lisideius, without much dispute, a 
great part of what he has urged against us; for I 
acknowledge that the French contrive their plots 
more regularly, and observe the laws of comedy, and 
decorum of the stage (to speak generally), with more 
exactness than the English. Farther, I deny not but 
he has taxed us justly in some irregularities of ours, 
which he has mentioned; yet, after all, I am of opinion 
that neither our faults nor their virtues are consider- 
able enough to place them above us. 

Tor the lively imitation of nature being in the 
definition of a play, those which best fulfil that law 
ought to be esteemed superior to the others. 'Tis 
true, those beauties of the French poesy are such as 
will raise perfection higher where it is, but are not 
sufficient to give it where it is not: they are indeed the 
beauties of a statue, but not of a man, because not 
animated with the soul of poesy, which is imitation of 
humour and passions: and this Lisideius himself, or 
any other, however biassed to their party, cannot but 
acknowledge, if he will either compare the humours 
of our comedies, or the characters of our serious plays, 
with theirs. He who will look upon theirs which have 
been written till these last ten years, or thereabouts, 
will find it a hard matter to pick out two or three 
passable humours amongst them. Corneille himself, 
their arch-poet, what has he produced except The 
Liar? and you know how it was cried up in France; 
but when it came upon the English stage, though well 
translated, and that part of Dorant acted to so much 
advantage as I am confident it never received in its 
own country, the most favourable to it would not 
put it in competition with many of Fletcher's or Ben 
Jonson's. In the rest of Corneille's comedies you have 
little humour ; he tells you himself his way is, first to 


show two lovers in good intelligence with each other; 
in the working up of the play to embroil them by 
some mistake, and in the latter end to clear it, and 
reconcile them. 

'But of late years Moli^re, the younger Corneille, 
Quinault, and some others, have been imitating afar 
off the quick turns and graces of the English stage. 
They have mixed their serious plays with mirth, 
like our tragi-comedies, since the death of Cardinal 
Richelieu; which Lisideius and many others not ob- 
serving, have commended that in them for a virtue 
which they themselves no longer practise. Most of 
their new plays are, like some of ours, derived from 
the Spanish novels. There is scarce one of them with- 
out a veil, and a trusty Diego, who drolls much after 
the rate of The Adventures. But their humours, if I may 
grace them with that name, are so thin-sown, that 
never above one of them comes up in any play. I 
dare take upon me to find more variety of them in 
some one play of Ben Jonson's, than in all theirs to- 
gether; as he who has seen The Alchemist, The Silent 
Woman, or Bartholomew Fair, cannot but acknowledge 
with me. 

T grant the French have performed what was pos- 
sible on the ground-work of the Spanish plays ; what 
was pleasant before, they have made regular: but 
there is not above one good play to be writ on all 
those plots; they are too much alike to please often; 
which we need not the experience of our own stage 
to justify. As for their new way of mingling mirth 
with serious plot, I do not, with Lisideius, condemn 
the thing, though I cannot approve their manner of 
doing it. He tells us, we cannot so speedily recollect 
ourselves after a scene of great passion and concern- 
ment, as to pass to another of mirth and humour, and 
to enjoy it with any relish : but why should he imagine 
the soul of man more heavy than his senses? Does not 
the eye pass from an unpleasant object to a pleasant 
in a much shorter time than is required to this? and 


does not the unpleasantness of the first commend the 
beauty of the latter? The old rule of logic might have 
convinced him that contraries, when placed near, set 
off each other. A continued gravity keeps the spirit 
too much bent; we must refresh it sometimes, as we 
bait in a journey that we may go on with greater ease. 
A scene of mirth, mixed with tragedy, has the same 
effect upon us which our music has between the acts ; 
which we find a relief to us from the best plots and 
language of the stage, if the discourses have been long. 
I must therefore have stronger arguments, ere I am 
convinced that compassion and mirth in the same 
subject destroy each other; and in the meantime 
cannot but conclude, to the honour of our nation, 
that we have invented, increased, and perfected a 
more pleasant way of writing for the stage than was 
ever known to the ancients or moderns of any nation, 
which is tragi-comedy. 

'And this leads me to wonder why Lisideius and 
many others should cry up the barrenness of the 
French plots above the variety and copiousness of 
the English. Their plots are single; they carry on one 
design, which is pushed forward by all the actors, 
every scene in the play contributing and moving to- 
wards it. Our plays, besides the main design, have 
under-plots or by-concernments, of less considerable 
persons and intrigues, which are carried on with the 
motion of the main plot : as they say the orb of the 
fixed stars and those of the planets, though they have 
motions of their own, are whirled about by the motion 
of the primum mobile, in which they are contained. 
That similitude expresses much of the English stage; 
for if contrary motions may be found in nature to 
agree, if a planet can go east and west at the same 
time — one way by virtue of his own motion, the other 
by the force of the first mover — it will not be difficult 
to imagine how the under-plot, which is only different, 
not contrary to the great design, may naturally be 
conducted along with it. 


'Eugenius has already shown us, from the con- 
fession of the French poets, that the unity of action is 
sufficiently preserved, if all the imperfect actions of 
the play are conducing to the main design; but when 
those petty intrigues of a play are so ill ordered, that 
they have no coherence with the other, I must grant 
that Lisideius has reason to tax that want of due con- 
nexion; for co-ordination in a play is as dangerous 
and unnatural as in a state. In the meantime he must 
acknowledge our variety, if well ordered, will afford 
a greater pleasure to the audience. 

'As for his other argument, that by pursuing one 
single theme they gain an advantage to express and 
work up the passions, I wish any example he could 
bring from them would make it good; for I confess 
their verses are to me the coldest I have ever read. 
Neither, indeed, is it possible for them, in the way 
they take, so to express passion as that the effects of it 
should appear in the concernment of an audience, 
their speeches being so many declamations which tire 
us with the length; so that instead of persuading us to 
grieve for their imaginary heroes, we are concerned 
for our own trouble, as we are in tedious visits of bad 
company; we are in pain till they are gone. When 
the French stage came to be reformed by Cardinal 
Richelieu, those long harangues were introduced to 
comply with the gravity of a churchman. Look upon 
the Cinna and the Pornpey ; they are not so properly to 
be called plays, as long discourses of reason of state; 
and Polyeucte in matters of religion is as solemn as the 
long stops upon our organs. Since that time it is 
grown into a custom and their actors speak by the 
hour-glass, like our parsons ; nay, they account it Xhc. 
grace of their parts, and think themselves disparaged 
by the poet, if they may not twice or thrice in a play 
entertain the audience with a speech of an hundred 
lines. I deny not but this may suit well enough with 
the French ; for as we, who are a more sullen people, 
come to be diverted at our plays, so they, who are of 


an airy and gay temper, come thither to make them- 
selves more serious: and this I conceive to be one 
reason why comedies are more pleasing to us, and 
tragedies to them. But to speak generally: it cannot 
be denied that short speeches and replies are more apt 
to move the passions and beget concernment in us, 
than the other; for it is unnatural for any one in a 
gust of passion to speak long together, or for another 
in the same condition to suffer him, without inter- 
ruption. Grief and passion are like floods raised in 
little brooks by a sudden rain; they are quickly up; 
and if the concernment be poured unexpectedly in 
upon us, it overflows us: but a long sober shower 
gives them leisure to run out as they came in, with- 
out troubling the ordinary current. As for comedy, 
repartee is one of its chiefest graces; the greatest 
pleasure of the audience is a chase of wit, kept upon 
both sides, and swiftly managed. And this our fore- 
fathers, if not we, have had in Fletcher's plays, to 
a much higher degree of perfection than the French 
poets can reasonably hope to reach. 

'There is another part of Lisideius his discourse, 
in which he has rather excused our neighbours, than 
commended them; that is, for aiming only to make 
one person considerable in their plays. 'Tis very true 
what he has urged, that one character in all plays, 
even without the poet's care, will have advantage of 
all the others ; and that the design of the whole drama 
will chiefly depend on it. But this hinders not that 
there may be more shining characters in the play; 
many persons of a second magnitude, nay, some so 
very near, so almost equal to the first, that greatness 
may be opposed to greatness, and all the persons be 
made considerable, not only by their quality, but 
their action. 'Tis evident that the more the persons 
are, the greater will be the variety of the plot. If then 
the parts are managed so regularly, that the beauty 
of the whole be kept entire, and that the variety be- 
come not a perplexed and confused mass of accidents. 


you will find it infinitely pleasing to be led in a laby- 
rinth of design, where you see some of your way before 
you, yet discern not the end till you arrive at it. And 
that all this is practicable, I can produce for examples 
many of our English plays: as The Maid's Tragedy, 
The Alchemist, The Silent Woman : I was going to have 
named The Fox, but that the unity of design seems not 
exactly observed in it; for there appear two actions 
in the play; the first naturally ending with the fourth 
act ; the second forced from it in the fifth : which yet is 
the less to be condemned in him, because the disguise 
of Volpone, though it suited not with his character 
as a crafty or covetous person, agreed well enough 
with that of a voluptuary; and by it the poet gained 
the end at which he aimed, the punishment of vice 
and the reward of virtue, both which that disguise 
produced. So that to judge equally of it, it was an 
excellent fifth act, but not so naturally proceeding from 
the former. 

'But to leave this, and pass to the latter part of 
Lisideius his discourse, which concerns relations: I 
must acknowledge with him, that the French have 
reason to hide that part of the action which would 
occasion too much tumult on the stage, and to choose 
rather to have it made known by narration to the 
audience. Farther, I think it very convenient, for 
the reasons he has given, that all incredible actions 
were removed ; but, whether custom has so insinuated 
itself into our countrymen, or nature has so formed 
them to fierceness, I know not ; but they will scarcely 
suffer combats and other objects of horror to be taken 
from them. And indeed, the indecency of tumults is 
all which can be objected against fighting; for why 
may not our imagination as well suffer itself to be 
deluded with the probability of it, as with any other 
thing in the play? For my part, I can with as great 
ease persuade myself that the blows are given in good 
earnest, as I can, that they who strike them are kings 
or princes, or those persons whom they represent. For 


objects of incredibility — I would be satisfied from 
Lisideius, whether we have any so removed from 
all appearance of truth, as are those of Corneille's 
Andromede; a play which has been frequented the 
most of any he has written. If the Perseus, or the son 
of an heathen god, the Pegasus, and the Monster, 
were not capable to choke a strong belief, let him 
blame any representation of ours hereafter. Those 
indeed were objects of delight; yet the reason is the 
same as to the probability : for he makes it not a ballet 
or masque, but a play, which is to resemble truth. 
But for death, that it ought not to be represented, I 
have, besides the arguments alleged by Lisideius, the 
authority of Ben Jonson, who has forborne it in his 
tragedies ; for both the death of Sejanus and Catiline 
are related : though in the latter I cannot but observe 
one irregularity of that great poet ; he has removed 
the scene in the same act from Rome to Catiline's, 
army, and from thence again to Rome; and besides, 
has allowed a very inconsiderable time after Catiline's, 
speech for the striking of the battle, and the return of 
Petreius who is to relate the event of it to the senate: 
which I should not animadvert on him, who was 
otherwise a painful observer of to npenov, or the decorum 
of the stage, if he had not used extreme severity in 
his judgement on the incomparable Shakespeare 
for the same fault. To conclude on this subject of 
relations; if we are to be blamed for showing too 
much of the action, the French are as faulty for dis- 
covering too little of it : a mean betwixt both should 
be observed by every judicious writer, so as the 
audience may neither be left unsatisfied by not seeing 
what is beautiful, or shocked by beholding what is 
either incredible or undecent. 

'I hope I have already proved in this discourse that 
though we are not altogether so punctual as the 
French in observing the laws of comedy, yet our errors 
are so few and little, and those things wherein we 
excel them so considerable, that we ought of right to 


be preferred before them. But what will Lisideius say, 
if they themselves acknowledge they are too strictly 
bounded by those laws, for breaking which he has 
blamed the English? I will allege Corneille's words 
as I find them in the end of his discourse of the three 
Unities : // est facile aux speculatifs d^etre seieres &c. 
" 'Tis easy for speculative persons to judge severely; 
but if they would produce to public view ten or twelve 
pieces of this nature, they would perhaps give more 
latitude to the rules than I have done, when, by ex- 
perience, they have known how much we are limited 
and constrained by them, and how many beauties of 
the stage they banished from it." To illustrate a 
little what he has said: By their servile observations 
of the unities of time and place, and integrity of 
scenes, they have brought on themselves that dearth 
of plot, and narrowness of imagination, which may 
be observed in all their plays. How many beautiful 
accidents might naturally happen in two or three days, 
which cannot arrive with any probability in the com- 
pass of twenty-four hours? There is time to be 
allowed also for maturity of design, which, amongst 
great and prudent persons, such as are often repre- 
sented in tragedy, cannot, with any likelihood of 
truth, be brought to pass at so short a warning. Far- 
ther; by tying themselves stricdy to the unity of place 
and unbroken scenes, they are forced many times to 
omit some beauties which cannot be shown where 
the act began; but might, if the scene were interrupted 
and the stage cleared for the persons to enter in 
another place; and therefore the French poets are 
often forced upon absurdities ; for if the act begins in 
a chamber, all the persons in the play must have some 
business or other to come hither, or else they are not 
to be shown that act ; and sometimes their characters 
are very unfitting to appear there: as, suppose it 
were the king's bed-chamber; yet the meanest man 
in the tragedy must come and dispatch his business 
there, rather than in the lobby or courtyard (which is 


fitter for him), for fear the stage should be cleared, 
and the scenes broken. Many times they fall by it in 
a greater inconvenience; for they keep their scenes 
unbroken, and yet change the place; as in one of 
their newest plays, where the act begins in the street. 
There a gentleman is to meet his friend ; he sees him 
with his man, coming out from his father's house; 
they talk together, and the first goes out: the second, 
who is a lover, has made an appointment with his 
mistress; she appears at the window, and then we 
are to imagine the scene lies under it. This gentle- 
man is called away, and leaves his servant with his 
mistress; presently her father is heard from within; 
the young lady is afraid the serving-man should be 
discovered, and thrusts him into a place of safety, 
which is supposed to be her closet. After this, the 
father enters to the daughter, and now the scene is in 
a house; for he is seeking from one room to another 
for this poor Philipin, or French Diego, who is heard 
firom within, drolling and breaking many a miserable 
conceit on the subject of his sad condition. In this 
ridiculous manner the play goes for\vard, the stage 
being never empty all the while: so that the street, 
the window, the houses, and the closet, are made to 
walk about, and the persons to stand still. Now what, 
I beseech you, is more easy than to write a regu- 
lar French play, or more difficult than to write an 
irregular English one, like those of Fletcher, or of 

'If they content themselves, as Corneille did, with 
some flat design, which, like an ill riddle, is found 
out ere it be half proposed, such plots we can make 
every way regular, a.s easily as they; but whenever 
they endeavour to rise to any quick turns and counter- 
turns of plot, as some of them have attempted, 
since Corneille's plays have been less in vogue, you 
see they write as irregularly as we, though they cover 
it more speciously. Hence the reason is perspicuous 
why no French plays, when translated, have or ever 


can succeed on the English stage. For, if you con- 
sider the plots, our own are fuller of variety; if the 
writing, ours are more quick and fuller of spirit ; and 
therefore 'tis a strange mistake in those who decry 
the way of writing plays in verse, as if the English 
therein imitated the French. We have borrowed 
nothing from them; our plots are weaved in English 
looms: we endeavour therein to follow the variety 
and greatness of characters which are derived to us 
from Shakespeare and Fletcher; the copiousness and 
well -knitting of the intrigues we have from Jonson; 
and for the verse itself we have English precedents of 
elder date than any of Corneille's plays. Not to name 
our o'd comedies before Shakespeare, which were all 
writ m verse of six feet, or Alexandrines, such as the 
French now use, I can show in Shakespeare many 
scenes of rhyme together, and the like in Ben Jonson's 
tragedies; in Catiline and Sejanus sometimes thirty or 
forty lines — I mean besides the Chorus, or the mono- 
logues; which, by the way, showed Ben no enemy to 
this way of writing, especially if you read his Sad 
Shepherd, which goes sometimes on rhyme, sometimes 
on blank verse, like an horse who eases himself on 
trot and amble. You find him hkewise commending 
Fletcher's pastoral of The Faithful Shepherdess, which 
is for the most part rhyme, though not refined to that 
purity to which it hath since been brought. And these 
examples are enough to clear us from a servile imita- 
tion of the French. 

'But to return whence I have digressed: I dare 
boldly affirm these two things of the English drama: 
First, that we have many plays of ours as regular as 
any of theirs, and which, besides, have more variety 
of plot and characters ; and secondly, that in most of 
the irregular plays of Shakespeare or Fletcher (for 
Ben Jonson's are for the most part regular), there is 
a more masculine fancy and greater spirit in the 
writing than there is in any of the French. I could 
produce, even in Shakespeare's and Fletchers' works, 


some plays which are almost exactly formed; as The 
Merry Wives of Windsor, and The Scornful Lady: but 
because (generally speaking) Shakespeare, who writ 
first, did not perfectly observe the laws of comedy, 
and Fletcher, who came nearer to perfection, yet 
through carelessness made many faults; I will take 
the pattern of a perfect play from Ben Jonson, who 
was a careful and learned observer of the dramatic 
laws, and from all his comedies I shall select The 
Silent Woman; of which I will make a short examen, 
according to those rules which the French observe.' 

As Neander was beginning to examine The Silent 
Woman, Eugenius, earnestly regarding him, 'I beseech 
you, Neander,' said he, 'gratify the company, and 
me in particular, so far as, before you speak of the 
play, to give us a character of the author; and tell us 
frankly your opinion, whether you do not think all 
writers, both French and English, ought to give place 
to him.' 

'I fear,' replied Neander, 'that in obeying your 
commands I shall draw some envy on myself. Be- 
sides, in performing them, it will be first necessary to 
speak somewhat of Shakespeare and Fletcher, his 
rivals in poesy ; and one of them, in my opinion, at 
least his equal, perhaps his superior. 

'To begin, then, with Shakespeare. He was the 
man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, 
had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All 
the images of nature were still present to him, and 
he drew them, not laboriously, but luckily; when he 
describes anything, you more than see it, you feel it 
too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, 
give him the greater commendation : he was naturally 
learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to 
read nature ; he looked inwards, and found her there. 
I cannot say he is everywhere alike; were he so, I 
should do him injury to compare him with the great- 
est of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid; his 
comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious 


swelling into bonnbast. But he is always great, when 
some great occasion is presented to him ; no man can 
say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not 
then raise himself as high above the rest of poets- 

Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi. 

The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eaton 
say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever 
wrote but he would produce it much better done in 
Shakespeare; and however others are now generally 
preferred before him, yet the age wherein he lived, 
which had contemporaries with him Fletcher and 
Jonson, never equalled them to him in their esteem: 
and in the last king's court, when Ben's reputation was 
at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the greater 
part of the courtiers, set our Shakespeare far above him. 
'Beaumont and Fletcher, of whom I am next to 
speak, had, with the advantage of Shakespeare's wit, 
which was their precedent, great natural gifts, im- 
proved by study : Beaumont especially being so accu- 
rate a judge of plays that Ben Jonson, while he lived, 
submitted all his writings to his censure, and, 'tis 
thought, used his judgement in correcting, if not 
contriving, all his plots. What value he had for him, 
appears by the verses he writ to him; and therefore 
I need speak no farther of it. The first play that 
brought Fletcher and him in esteem was their 
Philaster: for before that, they had written two or 
three very unsuccessfully, as the like is reported of 
Ben Jonson, before he wrote Every Man in his Humour. 
Their plots were generally more regular than Shake- 
speare's, especially those which were made before 
Beaumont's death; and they understood and imitated 
the conversation of gentlemen much better; whose 
wild debaucheries, and quickness of wit in repartees, 
no poet before them could paint as they have done. 
Humour which Ben Jonson derived from particular 
persons they made it not their business to describe: 
they represented all the passions very lively, but above 


all, love. I am apt to believe the English language in 
them arrived to its highest perfection; what words 
have since been taken in, are rather superfluous than 
ornamental. Their plays are now the most pleasant 
and frequent entertainments of the stage; two of theirs 
being acted through the year for one of Shakespeare's 
or Jonson's : the reason is, because there is a certain 
gaiety in their comedies and pathos in their more 
serious plays, which suits generally with all men's 
humours. Shakespeare's language is likewise a little 
obsolete, and Ben Jonson's wit comes short of theirs. 
'As for Jonson, to whose character I am now 
arrived, if we look upon him while he was himself 
(for his last plays were but his dotages), I think him 
the most learned and judicious writer which any 
theatre ever had. He was a most severe judge of 
himself, as well as others. One cannot say he wanted 
wit, but rather that he was frugal of it. In his works 
you find little to retrench or alter. Wit, and language, 
and humour also in some measure, we had before 
him ; but something of art was wanting to the drama, 
till he came. He managed his strength to more advan- 
tage than any who preceded him. You seldom find 
him making love in any of his scenes, or endeavour- 
ing to move the passions ; his genius was too sullen 
and saturnine to do it gracefully, especially when he 
knew he came after those who had performed both 
to such a height. Humour was his proper sphere; and 
in that he was delighted most to represent mechanic 
people. He was deeply conversant in the ancients, 
both Greek and Latin, and he borrowed boldly from 
them: there is scarce a poet or historian among the 
Roman authors of those times whom he has not trans- 
lated in Sejanus and Catiline. But he has done his 
robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to 
be taxed by any law. He invades authors like a 
monarch; and what would be theft in other poets is 
only victory in him. With the spoils of these writers 
he so represents old Rome to us, in its rites, ceremonies, 


and customs, that if one of their poets had written 
either of his tragedies, we had seen less of it than in 
him. If there was any fault in his language, 'twas that 
he weaved it too closely and laboriously, in his 
comedies especially: perhaps too, he did a little too 
much Romanize our tongue, leaving the words which 
he translated almost as much Latin as he found them : 
wherein, though he learnedly followed their language, 
he did not enough comply with the idiom of ours. If 
I would compare him with Shakespeare, I must 
acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shake- 
speare the greater wit. Shakespeare was the Homer, 
or father of our dramatic poets; Jonson was the Virgil, 
the pattern of elaborate writing; I admire him, but 
I love Shakespeare. To conclude of him; as he has 
given us the most correct plays, so in the precepts 
which he has laid down in his Discoveries, we have as 
many and profitable rules for perfecting the stage, as 
any wherewith the French can furnish us. 

'Having thus spoken of the author, I proceed to 
the examination of his comedy. The Silent \ Voman. 


'To begin first with the length of the action; it 
is so far from exceeding the compass of a natural day, 
that it takes not up an artificial one. 'Tis all included 
in the limits of three hours and a half, which is no 
more than is required for the presentment on the 
stage : a beauty perhaps not much observed ; if it had, 
we should not have looked on the Spanish translation 
of Five Hours with so much wonder. The scene of it 
is laid in London ; the latitude of place is almost as 
little as you can imagine; for it lies all within the 
compass of two houses, and after the first act, in one. 
The continuity of scenes is observed more than in any 
of our plays, except his own Fox and Alchemist. They 
are not broken above twice or thrice at most in the 
whole comedy; and in the two best of Corneille's plays. 


the Cid and Cinna, they are interrupted once. _ The 
action of the play is entirely one; the end or aim of 
which is the settling Morose's estate on Dauphine. 
The intrigue of it is the greatest and most noble of any 
pure unmixed comedy in any language ; you see in it 
many persons of various characters and humours, and 
all delightful: as first, Morose, or an old man, to 
whom all noise but his own talking is offensive. Some 
who would be thought critics, say this humour of his 
is forced: but to remove that objection, we may con- 
sider him first to be naturally of a delicate hearing, 
as many are, to whom all sharp sounds are unpleasant; 
and secondly, we may attribute much of it to the 
peevishness of his age, or the wayward authority of 
an old man in his own house, where he may make 
himself obeyed ; and to this the poet seems to allude 
in his name Morose. Besides this, I am assured from 
divers persons, that Ben Jonson was actually ac- 
quainted with such a man, one altogether as ridicu- 
lous as he is here represented. Others say, it is not 
enough to find one man of such a humour ; it must 
be common to more, and the more common the more 
natural. To prove this, they instance in the best of 
comical characters, Falstaff. There are many men 
resembling him; old, fat, merry, cowardly, drunken, 
amorous, vain, and lying. But to convince these 
people, I need but tell them, that humour is the 
ridiculous extravagance of conversation, wherein one 
man differs from all others. If then it be common, 
or communicated to many, how differs it from other 
men's? or what indeed causes it to be ridiculous so 
much as the singularity of it? As for Falstaff, he 
is not properly one humour, but a miscellany of 
humours or images, drawn from so many several men: 
that wherein he is singular is his wit, or those things 
he says praeter expectatum, unexpected by the audience; 
his quick evasions, when you imagine him surprised, 
which, as they are extremely diverting of themselves, 
so receive a great addition from his person; for the 


very sight of such an unwieldy old debauched fellow 
is a comedy alone. And here, having a place so proper 
for it, I cannot but enlarge somewhat upon this sub- 
ject of humour into which I am fallen. The ancients 
had little of it in their comedies ; for the to yeAoIov of 
the old comedy, of which Aristophanes was chief, was 
not so much to imitate a man, as to make the people 
laugh at some odd conceit, which had commonly 
somewhat of unnatural or obscene in it. Thus, when 
you see Socrates brought upon the stage, you are not 
to imagine him made ridiculous by the imitation of 
his actions, but rather by making him perform some- 
thing very unlike himself; something so childish and 
absurd as by comparing it with the gravity of the 
true Socrates makes a ridiculous object for the specta- 
tors. In their new comedy which succeeded, the poets 
sought indeed to express the ^dos, as in their tragedies 
the ndOos of mankind. But this ^dos contained only 
the general characters of men and manners ; as old 
men, lovers, serving-men, courtesans, parasites, and 
such other persons as we see in their comedies; all 
which they made alike ; that is, one old man or father, 
one lover, one courtesan, so like another, as if the first 
of them had begot the rest of every sort : Ex homine 
hunc natum dicas. The same custom they observed like- 
wise in their tragedies. As for the French, though they 
have the word humeur among them, yet they have 
small use of it in their comedies or farces ; they being 
but ill imitations of the ridiculum, or that which stirred 
up laughter in the old comedy. But among the English 
'tis otherwise: where by humour is meant some ex- 
travagant habit, passion, or affection, particular (as 
I said before) to some one person, by the oddness of 
which he is immediately distinguished from the rest 
of men; which being lively and naturally represented, 
most frequently begets that malicious pleasure in the 
audience which is testified by laughter; as all things 
which are deviations from customs are ever the aptest 
to produce it: though by the way this laughter is only 


accidental, as the person represented is fantastic or 
bizarre; but pleasure is essential to it, as the imitation 
of what is natural. The description of these humours, 
drawn from the knowledge and observation of par- 
ticular persons, was the peculiar genius and talent of 
Ben Jonson ; to whose play I now return. 

'Besides Morose, there are at least nine or ten 
different characters and humours in The Silent Woman; 
all which persons have several concernments of their 
own, yet are all lised by the poet to the conducting 
of the main design to perfection. I shall not waste time 
in commending the writing of this play; but I will 
give you my opinion, that there is more wit and 
acuteness of fancy in it than in any of Ben Jonson's. 
Besides that he has here described the conversation of 
gentlemen in the persons of True- Wit and his friends, 
with more gaiety, air, and freedom, than in the rest 
of his comedies. For the contrivance of the plot, 'tis 
extreme elaborate, and yet withal easy; for the Xvais, 
or untying of it, 'tis so admirable, that when it is done, 
no one of the audience would think the poet could 
have missed it; and yet it was concealed so much 
before the last scene that any other way would sooner 
have entered into your thoughts. But I dare not take 
upon me to commend the fabric of it, because it is 
altogether so full of art, that I must unravel every 
scene in it to commend it as I ought. And this excel- 
lent contrivance is still the more to be admired, 
because 'tis comedy, where the persons are only of 
common rank, and their business private, not elevated 
by passions or high concernments, as in serious plays. 
Here every one is a proper judge of all he sees, nothing 
is represented but that with which he daily converses : 
so that by consequence all faults lie open to discovery, 
and few are pardonable. 'Tis this which Horace has 
judiciously observed: 

Creditur, ex medio quia res arceasit, habere 
Sudoris minimum; sed habet Comedia tanto 
Plus oneris, quanta veniae minus. 


But our poet who was not ignorant of these difficulties, 
has made use of all advantages; as he who designs 
a large leap takes his rise from the highest ground. 
One of these advantages is that which Corneille has 
laid down as the greatest which can arrive to any 
poem, and which he himself could never compass 
above thrice in all his plays; viz. the making choice 
of some signal and long-expected day, whereon the 
action of the play is to depend. This day was that 
designed by Dauphine for the settling of his uncle's 
estate upon him; which to compass, he contrives to 
marry him. That the marriage had been plotted by 
him long beforehand is made evident by what he tells 
True-Wit in the second act, that in one moment he 
had destroyed what he had been raising many months. 

'There is another artifice of the poet, which I can- 
not here omit, because by the frequent practice of it 
in his comedies he has left it to us almost as a rule; 
that is, when he has any character or humour wherein 
he would show a coup de maitre, or his highest skill, he 
recommends it to your observation by a pleasant 
description of it before the person first appears. Thus, 
in Bartholomew Fair he gives you the picture of Numps 
and Cokes, and in this those of Daw, Lafoole, Morose, 
and the Collegiate Ladies; all which you hear de- 
scribed before you see them. So that before they come 
upon the stage, you have a longing expectation of 
them, which prepares you to receive them favourably; 
and when they are there, even from their first appear- 
ance you are so far acquainted with them, that 
nothing of their humour is lost to you. 

'I will observe yet one thing further of this admir- 
able plot; the business of it rises in every act. The 
second is greater than the first; the third than the 
second; and so forward to the fifth. There too you 
see, till the very last scene, new difficulties arising to 
obstruct the action of the play ; and when the audience 
is brought into despair that the business can naturally 
be effected, then, and not before, the discovery is 


made. But that the poet might entertain you with 
more variety all this while, he reserves some new 
characters to show you, which he opens not till the 
second and third act ; in the second Morose, Daw, the 
Barber, and Otter; in the third the Collegiate Ladies: 
all which he moves afterwards in by-walks, or under- 
plots, as diversions to the main design, lest it should 
grow tedious, though they are still naturally joined 
with it, and somewhere or other subservient to it. 
Thus, like a skilful chess-player, by little and httle 
he draws out his men, and makes his pawns of use to 
his greater persons. 

'If this comedy and some others of his were trans- 
lated into French prose (which would now be no 
wonder to them, since Moliere has lately given them 
plays out of verse, which have not displeased them) , 
I believe the controversy would soon be decided 
betwixt the two nations, even making them the judges. 
But we need not call our heroes to our aid. Be it 
spoken to the honour of the English, our nation can 
never want in any age such who are able to dispute 
the empire of wit with any people in the universe. 
And though the fury of a civil war, and power for 
twenty years together abandoned to a barbarous race 
of men, enemies of all good learning, had buried the 
muses under the ruins of monarchy; yet, with the 
restoration of our happiness, we see revived poesy 
lifting up its head, and already shaking off the rubbish 
which lay so heavy on it. We have seen since his 
majesty's return many dramatic poems which yield 
not to those of any foreign nation, and which deserve 
all laurels but the English. I will set aside flattery 
and envy : it cannot be denied but we have had some 
little blemish either in the plot or writing of all those 
plays which have been made within these seven years ; 
(and perhaps there is no nation in the world so quick 
to discern them, or so difficult to pardon them, as 
ours) : yet if we can persuade ourselves to use the 
candour of that poet, who, though the most severe of 


critics, has left us this caution by which to moderate 
our censures — 

-ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis 

Offendar maculis; — 

if, in consideration of their many and great beauties 
we can wink at some shght and Httle imperfections, 
if we, I say, can be thus equal to ourselves, I ask no 
favour from the French. And if I do not venture upon 
any particular judgement of our late plays, 'tis out of 
the consideration which an ancient writer gives me: 
vivorum, ut magna admiratio, ita censura dijficilis: "betwixt 
the extremes of admiration and malice, 'tis hard to 
judge uprightly of the living." Only I think it may 
be permitted me to say, that as it is no lessening to us 
to yield to some plays, and those not many, of our own 
nation in the last age, so it can be no addition to pro- 
nounce of our present poets that they have far sur- 
passed all the ancients, and the modern writers of 
other countries.' 

This was the substance of what was then spoke on 
that occasion; and Lisideius, I think, was going to 
reply, when he was prevented thus by Crites: 'I am 
confident,' said he, 'that the most material things that 
can be said have been already urged on either side; 
if they have not, I must beg of Lisideius that he will 
defer his answer till another time : for I confess I have 
a joint quarrel to you both, because you have con- 
cluded, without any reason given for it, that rhyme is 
proper for the stage. I will not dispute how ancient 
it hath been among us to write this way; perhaps our 
ancestors knew no better till Shakespeare's time. I 
will grant it was not altogether left by him, and that 
Fletcher and Ben Jonson used it frequently in their 
Pastorals, and sometimes in other plays. Farther — I 
will not argue whether we received it originally from 
our own countrymen, or from the French ; for that is 
an inquiry of as little benefit, as theirs who, in the 
midst of the late plague, were not so solicitous to 


provide against it, as to know whether we had it from 
the mahgnity of our own air, or by transportation 
from Holland. I have therefore only to affirm that it 
is not allowable in serious plays; for comedies, I find 
you already concluding with me. To prove this, I 
might satisfy myself to tell you how much in vain it 
is for you to strive against the stream of the people's 
inclination ; the greatest part of which are prepossessed 
so much with those excellent plays of Shakespeare, 
Fletcher, and Ben Jonson, which have been written 
out of rhyme, that except you could bring them such 
as were written better in it, and those too by persons 
of equal reputation with them, it will be impossible 
for you to gain your cause with them, who will still 
be judges. This it is to which, in fine, all your reasons 
must submit. The unanimous consent of an audience 
is so powerful, that even Julius Caesar (as Macrobius 
reports of him), when he was perpetual dictator, was 
not able to balance it on the other side; but when 
Laberius, a Roman knight, at his request contended 
in the Mime with another poet, he was forced to cry 
out, Etiamfavente me victus es, Laberi. But I will not on 
this occasion take the advantage of the greater num- 
ber, but only urge such reasons against rhyme, as I 
find in the writings of those who have argued for the 
other way. First then, I am of opinion, that rhyme 
is unnatural in a play, because dialogue there is 
presented as the effect of sudden thought : for a play 
is the imitation of nature; and since no man without 
premeditation speaks in rhyme, neither ought he to 
do it on the stage. This hinders not but the fancy may 
be there elevated to a higher pitch of thought than 
it is in ordinary discourse; for there is a probability 
that men of excellent and quick parts may speak noble 
things extempore: but those thoughts are never fettered 
with the numbers or sound of verse without study, 
and therefore it cannot be but unnatural to present 
the most free way of speaking in that which is the 
most constrained. For this reason, says Aristotle, 'tis 


best to write tragedy in that kind of verse which is the 
least such, or which is nearest prose : and this amongst 
the ancients was the Iambic, and with us is blank verse, 
or the measure of verse kept exactly without rhyme. 
These numbers therefore are fittest for a play; the 
others for a paper of verses, or a poem ; blank verse 
being as much below them, as rhyme is improper for 
the drama. And if it be objected that neither are 
blank verses made extempore, yet, as nearest nature, 
they are still to be preferred. But there are two 
particular exceptions, which many besides myself 
have had to verse; by which it will appear yet more 
plainly how improper it is in plays. And the first of 
them is grounded on that very reason for which some 
have commended rhyme; they say the quickness of 
repartees in argumentative scenes receives an orna- 
ment from verse. Now what is more unreasonable 
than to imagine that a man should not only light upon 
the wit, but the rhyme too, upon the sudden? This 
nicking of him who spoke before both in sound and 
measure, is so great a happiness that you must at 
least suppose the persons of your play to be born 
poets : Arcades omnes, et cantare pares, et respondere parati; 
they must have arrived at the degree oi quicquid conabar 
dicere; to make verses almost whether they will or no. 
If they are anything below this, it will look rather 
like the design of two, than the answer of one : it will 
appear that your actors hold intelligence together; 
that they perform their tricks like fortune-tellers, by 
confederacy. The hand of art will be too visible in it, 
against that maxim of all professions — Ars est celare 
artem ; that it is the greatest perfection of art to keep 
itself undiscovered. Nor will it serve you to object, 
that however you manage it, 'tis still known to be a 
play; and, consequently, the dialogue of two persons 
understood to be the labour of one poet. For a play 
is still an imitation of nature; we know we are to be 
deceived, and we desire to be so; but no man ever 
was deceived but with a probability of truth ; for who 


will suffer a gross lie to be fastened on him? Thus we 
sufficiently understand, that the scenes which repre- 
sent cities and countries to us are not really such, but 
only painted on boards and canvas; but shall that 
excuse the ill painture or designment of them? Nay, 
rather ought they not to be laboured with so much the 
more diligence and exactness, to help the imagination? 
since the mind of man does naturally tend to truth ; 
and therefore the nearer any thing comes to the 
imitation of it, the more it pleases. 

'Thus, you see, your rhyme is uncapable of express- 
ing the greatest thoughts naturally, and the lowest it 
cannot with any grace: for what is more unbefitting 
the majesty of verse than to call a servant, or bid a 
door be shut, in rhyme? and yet you are often forced 
on this miserable necessity. But verse, you say, cir- 
cumscribes a quick and luxuriant fancy, which would 
extend itself too far on every subject, did not the labour 
which is required to well-turned and pohshed rhyme 
set bounds to it. Yet this argument, if granted, would 
only prove that we may write better in verse, but not 
more naturally. Neither is it able to evince that; for 
he who wants judgement to confine his fancy in blank 
verse, may want it as much in rhyme: and he who 
has it will avoid errors in both kinds. Latin verse was 
as great a confinement to the imagination of those 
poets, as rhyme to ours ; and yet you find Ovid saying 
too much on every subject. Nescivit (says Seneca) quod 
bene cessit relinquere : of which he gives you one famous 
instance in his description of the deluge : 

Omnia pontus erat, deerant quoqve litora panto. 
Now all was sea, nor had that sea a shore. 

Thus Ovid's fancy was not limited by verse, and 
Virgil needed not verse to have boundediiis. 

'In our own language we see Ben Jonson conhnmg 
himself to what ought to be said, even in the liberty 
of blank verse; and yet Corneille, the most judicious 
of the French poets, is still varying the same sense a 

240 G 


hundred ways, and dwelling eternally on the same 
subject, though confined by rhyme. Some other 
exceptions I have to verse; but since these I have 
named are for the most part already public, I conceive 
it reasonable they should first be answered.' 

'It concerns me less than any,' said Neander (seeing 
he had ended), 'to reply to this discourse; because 
when I should have proved that verse may be natural 
in plays, yet I should always be ready to confess, that 
those which I have written in this kind come short 
of that perfection which is required. Yet since you 
are pleased I should undertake this province, I will 
do it, though with all imaginable respect and defer- 
ence, both to that person from whom you have 
borrowed your strongest arguments and to whose 
judgement, when I have said all, I finally submit. 
But before I proceed to answer your objections, I must 
first remember you, that I exclude all comedy from 
my defence; and next that I deny not but blank verse 
may be also used; and content myself only to assert, 
that in serious plays where the subject and characters 
are great, and the plot unmixed with mirth, which 
might allay or divert these concernments which are 
produced, rhyme is there as natural and more eflfectual 
than blank verse. 

'And now having laid down this as a foundation— 
to begin with Crites — I must crave leave to tell him, 
that some of his arguments against rhyme reach no 
farther than, from the faults or defects of ill rhyme, 
to conclude against the use of it in general. May not 
I conclude against blank verse by the same reason? 
If the words of some poets who write in it are either 
ill chosen, or ill placed, which makes not only rhyme, 
but all kinds of verse in any language unnatural, shall 
I, for their vicious affectation, condemn those excel- 
lent lines of Fletcher which are written in that kind? 
Is there anything in rhyme more constrained than 
this line in blank verse? — / heaven invoke, and strong 
resistance make; where you see both the clauses are 


placed unnaturally, that is, contrary to the common 
way of speaking, and that without the excuse of a 
rhyme to cause it: yet you would think me very 
ridiculous, if I should accuse the stubbornness of blank 
verse for this, and not rather the stiffness of the poet. 
Therefore, Crites, you must either prove that words, 
though well chosen, and duly placed, yet render not 
rhyme natural in itself: or that, however natural and 
easy the rhyme may be, yet it is not proper for a play. 
If you insist on the former part, I would ask you, what 
other conditions are required to make rhyme natural 
in itself, besides an election of apt words, and a right 
disposition of them? For the due choice of your words 
expresses your sense naturally, and the due placing 
them adapts the rhyme to it. If you object that one 
verse may be made for the sake of another, though 
both the words and rhyme be apt, I answer, it cannot 
possibly so fall out; for either there is a dependance 
of sense betwixt the first line and the second, or there 
is none : if there be that connexion, then in the natural 
position of the words the latter line must of necessity 
flow from the former; if there be no dependance, yet 
still the due ordering of words makes the last line as 
natural in itself as the other : so that the necessity of 
a rhyme never forces any but bad or lazy writers to 
say what they would not otherwise. 'Tis true, there 
is both care and art required to write in verse. A good 
poet never establishes the first line, till he has sought 
out such a rhyme as may fit the sense, already pre- 
pared to heighten the second: many times the close 
of the sense falls into the middle of the next verse, or 
farther oflT, and he may often prevail himself of the 
same advantages in English which Virgil had in Latin 
— he may break off in the hemistich, and begin 
another line. Indeed, the not observing these two 
last things makes plays which are written in verse so 
tedious: for though, most commonly, the sense is to 
be confined to the couplet, yet nothing that does 
perpetuo tenor e Jluere, "run in the same channel", can 

1 64 DRYDEN 

please always. 'Tis like the murmuring of a stream, 
which not varying in the fall, causes at first attention, 
at last drowsiness. Variety of cadences is the best 
rule ; the greatest help to the actors, and refreshment 
to the audience. 

'If then verse may be made natural in itself, how 
becomes it unnatural in a play? You say the stage 
is the representation of nature, and no man in ordinary 
conversation speaks in rhyme. But you foresaw when 
you said this, that it might be answered — neither does 
any man speak in blank verse, or in measure with- 
out rhyme. Therefore you concluded, that which is 
nearest nature is still to be preferred. But you took 
no notice that rhyme might be made as natural as 
blank verse, by the well placing of the words, &c. All 
the difference between them, when they are both 
correct, is, the sound in one, which the other wants; 
and if so, the sweetness of it, and all the advantage 
resulting from it, which are handled in the Preface 
to Tlu Rival Ladies^ will yet stand good. As for that 
place of Aristotle, where he says, plays should be 
written in that kind of verse which is nearest prose, 
it makes litde for you; blank verse being properly but 
measured prose. Now measure alone, in any modern 
language, does not constitute verse; those of the 
ancients in Greek and Latin consisted in quantity of 
words, and a determinate number of feet. But when, 
by the inundation of the Goths and Vandals into Italy, 
new languages were introduced, and barbarously 
mingled with the Latin, of which the Italian, Spanish, 
French, and ours (made out of them and the Teutonic) 
are dialects, a new way of poesy was practised ; new, 
I say, in those countries, for in all probability it was 
that of the conquerors in their own nations : at least 
we are able to prove that the eastern people have used 
it from all antiquity. This new way consisted in 
measure or number effect, and rhyme; the sweetness 
of rhyme, and observation of accent, supplying the 
place of quantity in words, which could neither 


exactly be observed by those barbarians, who knew 
not the rules of it, neither was it suitable to their 
tongues, as it had been to the Greek and Latin. No 
man is tied in modern poesy to observe any farther 
rule in the feet of his verse, but that they be dis- 
syllables; whether Spondee, Trochee, or Iambic, it 
matters not; only he is obliged to rhyme: neither do 
the Spanish, French, Italian, or Germans acknow- 
ledge at all, or very rarely, any such kind of poesy as 
blank verse amongst them. Therefore, at most 'tis 
but a poetic prose, a sermo pedestris ; and as such, most 
fit for comedies, where I acknowledge vhyvae to be 
improper. Farther; as to that quotation of Aristotle, 
our couplet verses may be rendered as near prose as 
blank verse itself, by using those advantages I lately 
named — as breaks in an hemistich, or running the 
sense into another line — thereby making art and order 
appear as loose and free as nature : or, not tying our- 
selves to couplets strictly, we may use the benefit of 
the Pindaric way practised in The Siege of Rhodes; 
where the numbers vary, and the rhyme is disposed 
carelessly and far from often chiming. Neither is that 
other advantage of the ancients to be despised, of 
changing the kind of verse when they please, with the 
change of the scene, or some new entrance ; for they 
confine not themselves always to iambics, but extend 
their liberty to all lyric numbers, and sometimes even 
to hexameter. But I need not go so far to prove that 
rhyme, as it succeeds to all other offices of Greek and 
Latin verse, so especially to this of plays, since the 
custom of nations at this day confirms it ; the French, 
Italian, and Spanish tragedies are generally writ in 
it; and sure the universal consent of the most civilized 
parts of the world ought in this, as it doth in other 
customs, to include the rest. 

'But perhaps you may tell me, I have proposed such 
a way to make rhyme natural, and consequently 
proper to plays, as is unpracticable; and that I shall 
scarce find six or eight lines together in any play. 


where the words are so placed and chosen as is re- 
quired to make it natural. I answer, no poet need 
constrain himself at all times to it. It is enough he 
makes it his general rule ; for I deny not but sometimes 
there may be a greatness in placing the words other- 
wise; and sometimes they may sound better; some- 
times also the variety itself is excuse enough. But if, 
for the most part, the words be placed as they are in 
the negligence of prose, it is sufficient to denominate 
the way practicable; for we esteem that to be such, 
which in the trial oftener succeeds than misses. And 
thus far you may find the practice made good in many 
plays : where you do not, remember still that if you 
cannot find six natural rhymes together, it will be as 
hard for you to produce as many lines in blank verse, 
even among the greatest of our poets, against which 
I cannot make some reasonable exception. 

'And this, Sir, calls to my remembrance the begin- 
ning of your discourse, where you told us we should 
never find the audience favourable to this kind of 
writing, till we could produce as good plays in rhyme, 
as Ben Jonson, Fletcher, and Shakespeare had written 
out of it. But it is to raise envy to the living, to com- 
pare them with the dead. They are honoured, and 
almost adored by us, as they deserve; neither do I 
know any so presumptuous of themselves as to contend 
with them. Yet give me leave to say thus much, with- 
out injury to their ashes ; that not only we shall never 
equal them, but they could never equal themselves, 
were they to rise and write again. We acknowledge 
them our fathers in wit; but they have ruined their 
estates themselves, before they came to their children's 
hands. There is scarce a humour, a character, or any 
kind of plot, which they have not used. All comes 
sullied or wasted to us: and were they to entertain 
this age, they could not now make so plenteous treat- 
ments out of such decayed fortunes. This therefore 
will be a good argument to us, either not to write at 
all, or to attempt some other way. There is no bays 


to be expected in their walks: tentanda via est, qud me 
quoque possum iollere humo. 

This way of writing in verse they have only left free 
to us; our age is arrived to a perfection in it, which 
they never knew; and which (if we may guess by 
what of theirs we have seen in verse, as The Faithful 
Shepherdess, and Sad Shepherd) 'tis probable they never 
could have reached. For the genius of every age is 
different; and though ours excel in this, I deny not 
but to imitate nature in that perfection which they 
did in prose, is a greater commendation than to write 
in verse exactly. As for what you have added — that 
the people are not generally inclined to like this way 
— if it were true, it would be no wonder that betwixt 
the shaking off an old habit, and the introducing of 
a new, there should be difficulty. Do we not see them 
stick to Hopkins' and Sternhold's psalms, and for- 
sake those of David, I mean Sandys his translation of 
them? If by the people you understand the multitude, 
the 01 TToXXoi, 'tis no matter what they think ; they are 
sometimes in the right, sometimes in the wrong : their 
judgement is a mere lottery. Est ubi plebs rede pulat, 
est ubi peccat. Horace says it of the vulgar judging 
poesy. But if you mean the mixed audience of the 
populace and the noblesse, I dare confidently affirm 
that a great part of the latter sort are already favour- 
able to verse; and that no serious plays written since 
the king's return have been more kindly received by 
them than The Siege of Rhodes, the Mustapha, The Indian 
Queen, and Indian Emperor. 

'But I come now to the inference of your first argu- 
ment. You said that the dialogue of plays is presented 
as the effect of sudden thought, but no man speaks 
suddenly, or extempore, in rhyme; and you inferred 
from thence, that rhyme, which you acknowledge to 
be proper to epic poesy, cannot equally be proper to 
dramatic, unless we could suppose all men born so 
much more than poets, that verses should be made in 
them, not by them. 

1 68 DRYDEN 

'It has been formerly urged by you, and confessed 
by me, that since no man spoke any kind of verse 
extempore, that which was nearest nature was to be 
preferred. I answer you, therefore, by distinguishing 
betwixt what is nearest to the nature of comedy, which 
is the imitation of common persons and ordinary 
speaking, and what is nearest the nature of a serious 
play ; this last is indeed the representation of nature, 
but 'tis nature wrought up to a higher pitch. The 
plot, the characters, the wit, the passions, the descrip- 
tions, are all exalted above the level of common con- 
verse, as high as the imagination of the poet can carry 
them, with proportion to verisimility. Tragedy, we 
know, is wont to image to us the minds and fortunes 
of noble persons, and to portray these exactly; heroic 
rhyTne is nearest nature, as being the noblest kind of 
modern verse. 

IndignatuT enim privatis et prope socco 
Dignis carminibus narrari coena Thyestae — 

says Horace : and in another place, 

Effutire leves indigna tragoedia versus — . 

Blank verse is acknowledged to be too low for a poem, 
nay more, for a paper of verses ; but if too low for an 
ordinary sonnet, how much more for tragedy, which 
is by Aristotle in the dispute betwixt the epic poesy 
and the dramatic, for many reasons he there alleges, 
ranked above it? 

'But setting this defence aside, your argument is 
almost as strong against the use of rhyme in poems as 
in plays ; for the epic way is everywhere interlaced in 
dialogue, or discursive scenes ; and therefore you must 
either grant rhyme to be improper there, which is 
contrary to your assertion, or admit it into plays by 
the same title which you have given it to poems. For 
though tragedy be justly preferred above the other, 
yet there is a great affinity between them, as may 
easily be discovered in that definition of a play which 
Lisideius gave us. The genus of them is the same — a 


just and lively image of human nature, in its actions, 
passions, and traverses of fortune: so is the end — 
namely, for the delight and benefit of mankind. The 
characters and persons are still the same, viz, the 
greatest of both sorts ; only the manner of acquainting 
us with those actions, passions, and fortunes is different. 
Tragedy performs it viva voce, or by action, in dialogue J 
wherein it excels the epic poem, which does it chiefly 
by narration, and therefore is not so lively an image 
of human nature. However, the agreement between 
them is such that if rhyme be proper for one, it must 
be for the other. Verse, 'tis true, is not the effect 
of sudden thought ; but this hinders not that sudden 
thought may be represented in verse, since those 
thoughts are such as must be higher than nature can 
raise them without premeditation, especially to a con- 
tinuance of them, even out of verse; and consequently 
you cannot imagine them to have been sudden either 
in the poet or in the actors. A play, as I have said, to 
be like nature, is to be set above it; as statues which 
are placed on high are made greater than the life, 
that they may descend to the sight in their just pro- 

'Perhaps I have insisted too long on this objection ; 
but the clearing of it will make my stay shorter on the 
rest. You tell us, Crites, that rhyme appears most 
unnatural in repartees, or short replies : when he who 
answers (it being presumed he knew not what the 
other would say, yet) makes up that part of the verse 
which was left incomplete, and supplies both the 
sound and measure of it. This, you say, looks rather 
like the confederacy of two, than the answer of 

'This, I confess, is an objection which is in every 
man's mouth, who loves not rhyme: but suppose, I 
beseech you, the repartee were made only in blank 
verse, might not part of the same argument be turned 
against you .'' for the measure is as often supplied there, 
as it is in rhyme; the latter half of the hemistich as 


commonly made up, or a second line subjoined as a 
reply to the former; which any one leaf in Jonson's 
plays will sufficiently clear to you. You will often find 
in the Greek tragedians, and in Seneca, that when a 
scene grows up into the warmth of repartees, which 
is the close fighting of it, the latter part of the trimeter 
is supplied by him who answers ; and yet it was never 
observed as a fault in them by any of the ancient or 
modern critics. The case is the same in our verse, as 
it was in theirs ; rhyme to us being in lieu of quantity 
to them. But if no latitude is to be allowed a poet, you 
take from him not only his licence of quidlibet audendi, 
but you tie him up in a straighter compass than you 
would a philosopher. This is indeed Musas colere 
severiores. You would have him follow nature, but he 
must follow her on foot: you have dismounted him 
from his Pegasus. But you tell us, this supplying the 
last half of a verse, or adjoining a whole second to 
the former, looks more like the design of two, than 
the answer of one. Suppose we acknowledge it : how 
comes this confederacy to be more displeasing to you 
than in a dance which is well contrived? You see 
there the united design of many persons to make up 
one figure: after they have separated themselves in 
many petty divisions, they rejoin one by one into a 
gross: the confederacy is plain amongst them, for 
chance could never produce anything so beautiful; 
and yet there is nothing in it, that shoclcs your sight. 
I acknowledge the hand of art appears in repartee, as 
of necessity it must in all kind of verse. But there is 
also the quick and poignant brevity of it (which is an 
high imitation of nature in those sudden gusts of 
passion) to mingle with it; and this, joined with the 
cadency and sweetness of the rhyme, leaves nothing 
in the soul of the hearer to desire. 'Tis an art which 
appears; but it appears only like the shadowings of 
painture, which being to cause the rounding of it 
cannot be absent; but while that is considered, they 
are lost: so while we attend to the other beauties of 


the matter, the care and labour of the rhyme is carried 
from us, or at least drowned in its own sweetness, as 
bees are sometimes buried in their honey. When a 
poet has found the repartee, the last perfection he can 
add to it is to put it into verse. However good the 
thought may be, however apt the words in which 
'tis couched, yet he finds himself at a little unrest 
while rhyme is wanting: he cannot leave it till that 
comes naturally, and then is at ease, and sits down 

'From replies, which are the most elevated thoughts 
of verse, you pass to those which are most mean, and 
which are common with the lowest of household con- 
versation. In these, you say, the majesty of verse 
suffers. You instance in the calling of a servant, or 
commanding a door to be shut, in rhyme. This, 
Crites, is a good observation of yours, but no argu- 
ment: for it proves no more but that such thoughts 
should be waived, as often as may be, by the address 
of the poet. But suppose they are necessary in the 
places where he uses them, yet there is no need to put 
them into rhyme. He may place them in the begin- 
ning of a verse, and break it off, as unfit, when so 
debased, for any other use; or granting the worst — 
that they require more room than the hemistich will 
allow, yet still there is a choice to be made of the best 
words, and least vulgar (provided they be apt), to 
express such thoughts. Many have blamed rhyme in 
general for this fault, when the poet with a little care 
might have redressed it. But they do it with no more 
justice than if English poesy should be made ridiculous 
for the sake of the Water-poet's rhymes. Our language 
is noble, full, and significant; and I know not why he 
who is master of it may not clothe ordinary things in 
it as decently as the Latin, if he use the same diligence 
in his choice of words : delectus verborum origo est elo- 
quentiae. It was the saying of Julius Caesar, one so 
curious in his, that none of them can be changed but 
for a worse. One would think unlock the door was a 


thing as vulgar as could be spoken; and yet Seneca 
could make it sound high and lofty in his Latin: 

Reserate clusos regit pastes laris. 
Set wide the palace gates. 

'But I turn from this exception, both because it 
happens not above twice or thrice in any play that 
those vulgar thoughts are used; and then too, (were 
there no other apology to be made, yet) the necessity 
of them, which is alike in all kind of writing, may 
excuse them. For if they are little and mean in rhyme, 
they are of consequence such in blank verse. Besides 
that the great eagerness and precipitation with which 
they are spoken makes us rather mind the substance 
than the dress; that for which they are spoken, rather 
than what is spoke. For they are always the effect of 
some hasty concernment, and something of conse- 
quence depends on them. 

'Thus, Crites, I have endeavoured to answer your 
objections ; it remains only that I should vindicate an 
argument for verse, which you have gone about to 
overthrow. It had formerly been said, that the easi- 
ness of blank verse renders the poet too luxuriant, but 
that the labour of rhyme bounds and circumscribes 
an over-fruitful fancy ; the sense there being commonly 
confined to the couplet, and the words so ordered that 
the rhyme naturally follows them, not they the rhyme. 
To this you answered, that it was no argument to the 
question in hand ; for the dispute was not which way 
a man may write best, but which is most proper for 
the subject on which he writes. 

'First, give me leave. Sir, to remember you, that 
the argument against which you raised this objection 
was only secondary: it was built on this hypothesis — 
that to write in verse was proper for serious plan's. 
Which supposition being granted (as it was briefly 
made out in that discourse by showing how verse 
might be made natural), it asserted, that this way of 
writing was an help to the poet's judgement, by put- 


ting bounds to a wild overflowing fancy. I think, 
therefore, it will not be hard for me to make good 
what it was to prove on that supposition. But you add, 
that were this let pass, yet he who wants judgement in 
the liberty of his fancy, may as well show the defect of 
it when he is confined to verse; for he who has judge- 
ment will avoid errors, and he who has it not will 
commit them in all kinds of writing. 

'This argument, as you have taken it from a most 
acute person, so I confess it carries much weight in 
it: but by using the word "judgement" here indefi- 
nitely, you seem to have put a fallacy upon us. I grant, 
he who has judgement, that is, so profound, so strong, 
or rather so infallible a judgement that he needs no 
helps to keep it always poised and upright, will com- 
mit no faults either in rhyme or out of it. And on the 
other extreme, he who has a judgement so weak and 
crazed that no helps can correct or amend it, shall 
write scurvily out of rhyme, and worse in it. But the 
first of these judgements is no where to be found, and 
the latter is not fit to write at all. To speak therefore 
of judgement as it is in the best poets; they who have 
the greatest proportion of it, want other helps than 
from it, within. As for example you would be loath 
to say, that he who is endued with a sound judgement 
has no need of history, geography, or moral philo- 
sophy, to write correctly. Judgement is indeed the 
master- workman in a play; but he requires many 
subordinate hands, many tools to his assistance. And 
verse I affirm to be one of these; 'tis a rule and line by 
which he keeps his building compact and even, which 
otherwise lawless imagination would raise either 
irregularly or loosely; at least, if the poet commits 
errors with this help, he would make greater and more 
without it: 'tis, in short, a slow and painful, but the 
surest kind of working. Ovid, whom you accuse for 
luxuriancy in verse, had perhaps been farther guilty 
of it, had he writ in prose. And for your instance of 
Ben Jonson, who, you say, wrote exactly without the 


help of rhyme ; you are to remember, 'tis only an aid 
to a luxuriant fancy, which his was not : as he did not 
want imagination, so none ever said he had much to 
spare. Neither was verse then refined so much, to be 
an help to that age, as it is to ours. Thus then the 
second thoughts being usually the best, as receiving 
the maturest digestion from judgement, and the last 
and most mature product of those thoughts being 
artful and laboured verse, it may well be inferred, 
that verse is a great help to a luxuriant fancy; and 
this is what that argument which you opposed was 
to evince.' 

Neander was pursuing this discourse so eagerly, 
that Eugenius had called to him twice or thrice, ere he 
took notice that the barge stood still, and that they 
were at the foot of Somerset Stairs, where they had 
appointed it to land. The company were all sorry to 
separate so soon, though a great part of the evening 
was already spent; and stood awhile looking back on 
the water, upon which the moonbeams played, and 
made it appear like floating quicksilver: at last they 
went up through a crowd of French people, who were 
merrily dancing in the open air, and nothing con- 
cerned for the noise of guns which had alarmed the 
town that afternoon. Walking thence together to the 
Piazze, they parted there; Eugenius and Lisideius to 
some pleasant appointment they had made, and Crites 
and Neander to their several lodgings. 



*Tis with a poet, as with a man who designs to build, 
and is very exact, as he supposes, in casting up the 
cost beforehand; but, generally speaking, he is mis- 
taken in hb account, and reckons short of the expense 
he first intended. He alters his mind as the work pro- 
ceeds, and will have this or that convenience more, of 


which he had not thought when he began. So has it 
happened to me; I have built a house, where I in- 
tended but a lodge; yet with better success than a 
certain nobleman, who, beginning with a dog-kennel, 
never lived to finish the palace he had contrived. 

From translating the First of Homer's Iliads (which 
I intended as an essay to the whole work), I proceeded 
to the translation of the Twelfth Book of Ovid's Meta- 
morphoses, because it contains, among other things, the 
causes, the beginning, and ending, of the Trojan war. 
Here I ought in reason to have stopped; but the 
speeches of Ajax and Ulysses lying next in my way I 
could not balk 'em. When I had compassed them, 
I was so taken with the former part of the Fifteenth 
Book (which is the masterpiece of the whole Meta- 
morphoses), that I enjoined myself the pleasing task of 
rendering it into English. And now I found, by the 
number of my verses, that they began to swell into a 
little volume; which gave me an occasion of looking 
backward on some beauties of my author, in his former 
books : there occurred to me the Hunting of the Boar, 
Cinyras and Myrrha, the good-natured story of Baucis 
and Philemon, with the rest, which I hope I have trans- 
lated closely enough, and given them the same turn 
of verse which they had in the original ; and this, I 
may say, without vanity, is not the talent of every 
poet. He who has arrived the nearest to it is the 
ingenious and learned Sandys, the best versifier of the 
former age; if I may properly call it by that name, 
which was the former part of this concluding century. 
For Spenser and Fairfax both flourished in the reign 
of Queen Elizabeth ; great masters in our language, 
and who saw much farther into the beauties of our 
numbers than those who immediately followed them. 
Milton was the poetical son of Spenser, and Mr. 
Waller of Fairfax ; for we have our lineal descents and 
clans as well as other families. Spenser more than 
once insinuates, that the soul of Chaucer was trans- 
fused into his body ; and that he was begotten by him 


two hundred years after his decease. Milton has 
acknowledged to me, that Spenser was his original; 
and many besides myself have heard our famous 
Waller own, that he derived the harmony of his num- 
bers from Godfrey of BuUoigne, which was turned into 
English by Mr. Fairfax. 

But to return : having done with Ovid for this time, 
it came into my mind, that our old English poet, 
Chaucer, in many things resembled him, and that 
with no disadvantage on the side of the modem 
author, as I shall endeavour to prove when I compare 
them; and as I am, and always have been, studious 
to promote the honour of my native country, so I soon 
resolved to put their merits to the trial, by turning 
some of the Canterbury Tales into our language, as it is 
now refined; for by this means, both the poets being 
set in the same light and dressed in the same English 
habit, story to be compared with story, a certain 
judgement may be made betwixt them by the reader, 
without obtruding my opinion on him. Or, if I seem 
partial to my countryman and predecessor in the 
laurel, the friends of antiquity are not few; and, besides 
many of the learned, Ovid has almost all the beaux 
and the whole fair sex, his declared patrons. Perhaps 
I have assumed somewhat more to myself than they 
allow me, because I have adventured to sum up the 
evidence; but the readers are the jury, and their 
privilege remains entire, to decide according to the 
merits of the cause; or, if they please, to bring it to 
another hearing before some other court. In the 
meantime, to follow the thread of my discourse (as 
thoughts, according to Mr. Hobbes, have always 
some connexion), so from Chaucer I was led to think 
on Boccace, who was not only his contemporary, but 
also pursued the same studies ; wrote novels in prose, 
and many works in verse; particularly is said to have 
invented the octave rhyme, or stanza of eight Hnes, 
which ever since has been maintained by the practice 
of all Italian writers who are, or at least assume the 


title of, heroic poets. He and Chaucer, among other 
things, had this in common, that they refined their 
mother-tongues; but with this diflference, that Dante 
had begun to file their language, at least in verse, 
before the time of Boccace, who likewise received no 
little help from his master Petrarch; but the reforma- 
tion of their prose was wholly owing to Boccace him- 
self, who is yet the standard of purity in the Italian 
tongue, though many of his phrases are become obso- 
lete, zis in process of time it must needs happen. 
Chaucer (as you have formerly been told by our 
learned Mr. Rymer) first adorned and amplified our 
barren tongue from the Provengal, which was then 
the most polished of all the modern languages; but 
this subject has been copiously treated by that great 
critic, who deserves no little commendation from us 
his countrymen. For these reasons of time, and re- 
semblance of genius, in Chaucer and Boccace, I 
resolved to join them in my present work; to which 
I have added some original papers of my own, which 
whether they are equal or inferior to my other poems, 
an author is the most improper judge; and therefore 
I leave them wholly to the mercy of the reader. I will 
hope the best, that they will not be condemned; but 
if they should, I have the excuse of an old gentleman, 
who, mounting on horseback before some ladies, when 
I was present, got up somewhat heavily, but desired 
of the fair spectators, that they would count fourscore 
and eight before they judged him. By the mercy of 
God, I am already come within twenty years of his 
number; a cripple in my limbs, but what decays are 
in my mind, the reader must determine. I think 
myself as vigorous as ever in the faculties of my soul, 
excepting only my memory, which is not impaired to 
any great degree; and if I lose not more of it, I have 
no great reason to complain. What judgement I had, 
increases rather than diminishes; and thoughts, such 
as they are, come crowding in so fast upon me, that 
my only difficulty is to choose or to reject, to run them 


into verse, or to give them the other harmony of prose: 
I have so long studied and practised both, that they 
are grown into a habit, and become famiUar to me. 
In short, though I may lawfully plead some part of 
the old gentleman's excuse, yet I will reserve it till I 
think I have greater need, and ask no grains of allow- 
ance for the faults of this my present work, but those 
which are given of course to human frailty. I will not 
trouble my reader with the shortness of time in which 
I wrote it, or the several intervals of sickness. They 
who think too well of their own performances, are apt 
to boast in their prefaces how little time their works 
have cost them, and what other business of more 
importance interfered; but the reader will be as apt 
to ask the question, why they allowed not a longer 
time to make their works more perfect? and why they 
had so despicable an opinion of their judges as to 
thrust their indigested stuff upon them, as if they 
deserved no better? 

With this account of my present undertaking, I 
conclude the first part of this discourse : in the second 
part, as at a second sitting, though I alter not the 
draught, I must touch the same features over again, 
and change the dead-colouring of the whole. In 
general I will only say, that I have written nothing 
which savours of immorality or profaneness; at least, 
I am not conscious to myself of any such intention. 
If there happen to be found an irreverent expression, 
or a thought too wanton, they are crept into my verses 
through my inadvertency : if the searchers find any 
in the cargo, let them be staved or forfeited, like 
counterbanded goods; at least, let their authors be 
answerable for them, as being but imported merchan- 
dise, and not of my own manufacture. On the other 
side, I have endeavoured to choose such fables, both 
ancient and modern, as contain in each of them some 
instructive moral ; which I could prove by induction, 
but the way is tedious, and they leap foreinost into 
sight, without the reader's trouble of looking after 


them. I wish I could affirm, with a safe conscience, 
that I had taken the same care in all my former 
writings ; for it must be owned, that supposing verses 
are never so beautiful or pleasing, yet, if they contain 
anything which shocks religion or good manners, they 
are at best what Horace says of good numbers without 
good sense, Versus inopes rerum, nugaeque canorae. Thus 
far, I hope, I am right in court, without renouncing 
to my other right of self-defence, where I have been 
wrongfully accused, and my sense wire-drawn into 
blasphemy or bawdry, as it has often been by a reli- 
gious lawyer, in a late pleading against the stage; in 
which he mixes truth with falsehood, and has not 
forgotten the old rule of calumniating strongly, that 
something may remain. 

I resume the thrid of my discourse with the first of 
my translations, which was the first Iliad of Homer. 
If it shall please God to give me longer life, and 
moderate health, my intentions are to translate the 
whole Ilias; provided still that I meet with those 
encouragements from the public, which may enable 
me to proceed in my undertaking with some cheerful- 
ness. And this I dare assure the world beforehand, 
that I have found, by trial. Homer a more pleasing 
task than Virgil, though I say not the translation will 
be less laborious; for the Grecian is more according 
to my genius than the Latin poet. In the works of the 
two authors we may read their manners, and natural 
inclinations, which are wholly different. Virgil was 
of a quiet, sedate temper; Homer was violent, impetu- 
ous, and full of fire. The chief talent of Virgil was 
propriety of thoughts, and ornament of words: Homer 
was rapid in his thoughts, and took all the liberties, 
both of numbers and of expressions, which his lan- 
guage, and the age in which he lived, allowed him. 
Homer's invention was more copious, Virgil's more 
confined; so that if Homer had not led the way, it was 
not in Virgil to have begun heroic poetry; for nothing 
can be more evident, than that the Roman poem is 


but the second part of the Ilias; a continuation of the 
same story, and the persons already formed. The 
manners of Aeneas are those of Hector, super-added 
to those which Homer gave him. The adventures of 
Ulysses in the Odysseis are imitated in the first six 
books of Virgil's Aeneis; and though the accidents are 
not the same (which would have argued him of a 
servile copying, and total barrenness of invention) , yet 
the seas were the same in which both the heroes wan- 
dered ; and Dido cannot be denied to be the poetical 
daughter of Calypso. The sb: latter books of Virgil's 
poem are the four-and-twenty Iliads contracted; a 
quarrel occasioned by a lady, a single combat, battles 
fought, and a town besieged. I say not this in deroga- 
tion to Virgil, neither do I contradict anything which 
I have formerly said in his just praise; for his episodes 
are almost wholly of his own invention, and the form 
which he has given to the telling makes the tale his 
own, even though the original story had been the 
same. But this proves, however, that Homer taught 
Virgil to design; and if invention be the first virtue of 
an epic poet, then the Latin poem can only be allowed 
the second place. Mr. Hobbes, in the preface to his 
own bald translation of the Ilias (studying poetry 
as he did mathematics, when it was too late), Mr. 
Hobbes, I say, begins the praise of Homer where he 
should have ended it. He tells us, that the first beauty 
of an epic poem consists in diction; that is, in the choice 
of words, and harmony of numbers. Now the words 
are the colouring of the work, which, in the order 
of nature, is last to be considered. The design, the 
disposition, the manners, and the thoughts, are all 
before it: where any of those are wanting or imper- 
fect, so much wants or is imperfect in the imitation of 
human life, which is in the very definition of a poem. 
Words, indeed, like glaring colours, are the first 
beauties that arise and strike the sight; but, if the 
draught be false or lame, the figures ill disposed, the 
manners obscure or inconsistent, or the thoughts un- 


natural, then the finest colours are but daubing, and 
the piece is a beautiful monster at the best. Neither 
Virgil nor Homer were deficient in any of the former 
beauties; but in this last, which is expression, the 
Roman poet is at least equal to the Grecian, as I have 
said elsewhere : supplying the poverty of his language 
by his musical ear, and by his diligence. 

But to return : our two great poets being so different 
in their tempers, one choleric and sanguine, the other 
phlegmatic and melancholic ; that which makes them 
excel in their several ways is, that each of them has 
followed his own natural inclination, as well in form- 
ing the design, as in the execution of it. The very 
heroes show their authors : Achilles is hot, impatient, 
revengeful : 

Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer, &c., 

Aeneas patient, considerate, careful of his people, and 
merciful to his enemies; ever submissive to the will of 
heaven : 

. . . quo fata trahunt retrahuntque, sequamur. 

T could please myself with enlarging on this subject, 
but am forced to defer it to a fitter time. From all I 
have said, I will only draw this inference, that the 
action of Homer, being more full of vigour than that 
of Virgil, according to the temper of the writer, is of 
consequence more pleasing to the reader. One warms 
you by degrees; the other sets you on fire all at once, 
and never intermits his heat. 'Tis the same difference 
which Longinus makes betwixt the effects of eloquence 
in Demosthenes and Tully; one persuades, the other 
commands. You never cool while you read Homer, 
even not in the Second Book (a graceful flattery to 
his countrymen) ; but he hastens from the ships, and 
concludes not that book till he has made you an 
amends by the violent playing of a new machine. 
From thence he hurries on his action with variety of 
events, and ends it in less compass than two months. 
This vehemence of his, I confess, is more suitable to 

1 82 DRYDEN 

my temper; and, therefore, I have translated his First 
Book with greater pleasure than any part of Virgil; 
but it was not a pleasure without pains. The continual 
agitations of the spirits must needs be a weakening of 
any constitution, especially in age; and many pauses 
are required for refreshment betwixt the heats; the 
/Zzflc^of itself being a third part longer than all Virgil's 
works together. 

This is what I thought needful in this place to say 
of Homer. I proceed to Ovid and Chaucer; consider- 
ing the former only in relation to the latter. With 
Ovid ended the golden age of the Roman tongue; 
from Chaucer the purity of the English tongue began. 
The manners of the poets were not unlike. Both of 
them were well-bred, well-natured, amorous, and 
libertine, at least in their writings; it may be, also in 
their lives. Their studies were the same, philosophy 
and philology. Both of them were knowing in astro- 
nomy; of which Ovid's books of the Roman Feasts, and 
Chaucer's Treatise of the Astrolabe, are sufficient wit- 
nesses. But Chaucer was likewise an astrologer, as 
were Virgil, Horace, Persius, and Manilius. Both 
writ with wonderful facility and clearness; neither 
were great inventors : for Ovid only copied the Grecian 
fables, and most of Chaucer's stories were taken from 
his Italian contemporaries, or their predecessors. 
Boccace his Decameron was first published, and from 
thence our Englishman has borrowed many of his 
Canterbury Tales: yet that of Palamon and Arcite was 
written, in all probability, by some Italian wit, in a 
former age, as I shall prove hereafter. The tale of 
Grizild was the invention of Petrarch ; by him sent to 
Boccace, from whom it came to Chaucer. Troilus and 
Cressida was also written by a Lombard author, but 
much amplified by our English translator, as well ais 
beautified ; the genius of our countrymen, in general, 
being rather to improve an invention than to invent 
themselves, as is evident not only in our poetry, but in 
many of our manufactures. I find I have anticipated 


already, and taken up from Boccace before I come 
to him but there is so much less behind; and I am 
of the temper of most kings, who love to be in debt, 
are all for present money, no matter how they pay it 
afterwards : besides, the nature of a preface is ram- 
bling, never wholly out of the way, nor in it. This I 
have learned from the practice of honest Montaigne, 
and return at my pleasure to Ovid and Chaucer, of 
whom I have little more to say. 

Both of them built on the inventions of other men; 
yet, since Chaucer had something of his own, as 
The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Cock and the Fox, which 
I have translated, and some others, I may justly give 
our countryman the precedence in that part; since 
I can remember nothing of Ovid which was wholly 
his. Both of them understood the manners; under 
which name I comprehend the passions, and, in a 
larger sense, the descriptions of persons, and their 
very habits. For an example, I see Baucis and 
Philemon as perfectly before me as if some ancient 
painter had drawn them; and all the pilgrims in the 
Canterbury Tales, their humours, their features, and 
the very dress, as distinctly as if I had supped with 
them at the Tabard in Southwark. Yet even there, 
too, the figures of Chaucer are much more lively, 
and set in a better light; which though I have not 
time to prove, yet I appeal to the reader, and am sure 
he will clear me from partiality. The thoughts and 
words remain to be considered, in the comparison of 
the two poets ; and I have saved myself one-half of 
the labour, by owning that Ovid lived when the 
Roman tongue was in its meridian; Chaucer, in the 
dawning of our language: therefore that part of 
the comparison stands not on an equal foot, any more 
than the diction of Ennius and Ovid, or of Chaucer 
and our present English. The words are given up, 
as a post not to be defended in our poet, because he 
wanted the modern art of fortifying. The thoughts 
remain to be considered ; and they are to be measured 


only by their propriety; that is, as they flow more or 
less naturally from the persons described, on such 
and such occasions. The vulgar judges, which are 
nine parts in ten of all nations, who call conceits and 
jingles wit, who see Ovid full of them, and Chaucer 
altogether without them, will think me little less than 
mad for preferring the Englishman to the Roman. 
Yet, with their leave, I must presume to say, that the 
things they admire are only glittering trifles, and so 
far from being witty, that in a serious poem they are 
nauseous, because they are unnatural. Would any 
man, who is ready to die for love, describe his passion 
like Narcissus? Would he think of inopem me copia 
fecit, and a dozen more of such expressions, poured 
on the neck of one another, and signifying all the 
same thing? If this were wit, was this a time to be 
witty, when the poor wretch was in the agony of 
death? This is just John Littlewit, in Bartholomew 
Fair, who had a conceit (as he tells you) left him in 
his misery; a miserable conceit. On these occasions 
the poet should endeavour to raise pity; but, instead 
of this, Ovid is tickling you to laugh. Virgil never 
made use of such machines when he was moving you 
to commiserate the death of Dido: he would not 
destroy what he was building. Chaucer makes Arcite 
violent in his love, and unjust in the pursuit of it; 
yet, when he came to die, he made him think more 
reasonably : he repents not of his love, for that had 
altered his character; but acknowledges the injustice 
of his proceedings, and resigns Emilia to Palamon. 
What would Ovid have done on this occasion? He 
would certainly have made Arcite witty on his death- 
bed; he had complained he was farther off fiom 
possession by being so near, and a thousand such 
boyisms, which Chaucer rejected as below the dignity 
of the subject. They who think otherwise, would, by 
the same reason, prefer Lucan and Ovid to Homer 
and Virgil, and Martial to all four of them. As for 
the turn of words, in which Ovid particularly excels 


all poets, they are sometimes a fault, and sometimes 
a beauty, as they are used properly or improperly; 
but in strong passions always to be shunned, because 
passions are serious, and will admit no playing. The 
French have a high value for them; and, I confess, 
they are often what they call delicate, when they are 
introduced with judgement; but Chaucer writ with 
more simplicity, and followed Nature more closely 
than to use them. I have thus far, to the best of my 
knowledge, been an upright judge betwixt the parties 
in competition, not meddling with the design nor the 
disposition of it; because the design was not their 
own; and in the disposing of it they were equal. It 
remains that I say somewhat of Chaucer in particular. 
In the first place, as he is the father of English 
poetry, so I hold him in the same degree of veneration 
as the Grecians held Homer, or the Romans Virgil. 
He is a perpetual fountain of good sense ; learned in 
aU sciences; and, therefore, speaks properly on all 
subjects. As he knew what to say, so he knows also 
when to leave off; a continence which is practised 
by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients, 
excepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great 
poets is sunk in his reputation, because he could 
never forgive any conceit which came in his way; 
but swept like a drag-net, great and small. There 
was plenty enough, but the dishes were ill sorted; 
whole pyramids of sweetmeats for boys and women, 
but little of solid meat for men. All this proceeded not 
from any want of knowledge, but of judgement. 
Neither did he want that in discerning the beauties 
and faults of other poets, but only indulged himself 
in the luxury of writing; and perhaps knew it was a 
fault, but hoped the reader would not find it. For 
this reason, though he must always be thought a great 
poet, he is no longer esteemed a good writer ; and for 
ten impressions, which his works have had in so many 
successive years, yet at present a hundred books are 
scarcely purchased once a twelvemonth; for, as my 


last Lord Rochester said, though somewhat profanely, 

Not being of God. he could not stand. 

Chaucer followed Nature everywhere, but was 
never so bold to go beyond her; and there is a great 
difference of being poeta and nimis poeta, if we may 
beheve Catullus, as much as betwixt a modest be- 
haviour and affectation. The verse of Chaucer, I 
confess, is not harmonious to us; but 'tis like the 
eloquence of one whom Tacitus commends, it was 
auribus istius lemporis accommodata: they who lived with 
him, and some time after him, thought it musical; 
and it continues so, even in our judgement, if com- 
pared with the numbers of Lydgate and Cower, his 
contemporaries: there is the rude sweetness of a 
Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, 
though not perfect. 'Tis true, I cannot go so far as he 
who published the last edition of him; for he would 
make us believe the fault is in our ears, and that there 
were really ten syllables in a verse where we find but 
nine: but this opinion is not worth confuting; 'tis so 
gross and obvious an error, that common sense (which 
is a rule in everv'thing but matters of Faith and Reve- 
lation) must convince the reader, that equality of 
numbers in every verse which we call heroic was either 
not known, or not always practised, in Chaucer's age. 
It were an easy matter to produce some thousands 
of his verses which are lame for want of half a foot, 
and sometimes a whole one, and which no pronuncia- 
tion can make otherwise. We can only say, that he 
lived in the infancy of our poetry, and that nothing 
is brought to perfection at the first. We must be 
children before we grow men. There was an Ennius, 
and in process of time a Lucilius, and a Lucretius, 
before Virgil and Horace; even after Chaucer there 
was a Spenser, a Harington, a Fairfax, before Waller 
and Denham were in being; and our numbers were 
in their nonage till these last appeared. I need say 
little of his parentage, life, and fortunes ; they are to 
be found at large in all the editions of his works. He 


was employed abroad, and favoured, by Edward the 
Third, Richard the Second, and Henry the Fourth, 
and was poet, as I suppose, to all three of them. In 
Richard's time, I doubt, he was a little dipped in the 
rebelHon of the Commons; and being brother-in-law 
to John of Gaunt, it was no wonder if he followed the 
fortunes of that family; and was well with Henry 
the Fourth when he had deposed his predecessor. 
Neither is it to be admired, that Henry, who was a 
wise as well as a valiant prince, who claimed by suc- 
cession, and was sensible that his title was not sound, 
but was rightfully in Mortimer who had married the 
heir of York ; it was not to be admired, I say, if that 
great politician should be pleased to have the greatest 
wit of those times in his interests, and to be the trumpet 
of his praises. Augustus had given him the example, 
by the advice of Maecenas, who recommended Virgil 
and Horace to him; whose praises helped to make him 
popular while he was alive, and after his death have 
made him precious to posterity. As for the religion 
of our poet, he seems to have some little bias to\vards 
the opinions of Wicliffe, after John of Gaunt his 
patron; somewhat of which appears in the tale of 
Piers Plowman : yet I cannot blame him for inveighing 
so sharply against the vices of the clergy in his age : 
their pride, their ambition, their pomp, their avarice, 
their worldly interest, deserved the lashes which he 
gave them, both in that, and in most of his Canterbury 
Tales. Neither has his contemporary Boccace spared 
them: yet both those poets lived in much esteem with 
good and holy men in orders; for the scandal which 
is given by particular priests reflects not on the sacred 
function. Chaucer's Monk, his Canon, and his Friar, 
took not from the character of his Good Parson. A 
satirical poet is the check of the laymen on bad 
priests. We are only to take care, that we involve not 
the innocent with the guilty in the same condemna- 
tion. The good cannot be too much honoured, nor 
the bad too coarsely used ; for the corruption of the 

1 88 DRYDEN 

best becomes the worst. When a clergyman is 
whipped, his gown is first taken off, by which the 
dignity of his order is secured. If he be wrongfully 
accused, he has his action of slander; and 'tis at the 
poet's peril if he transgress the law. But they will tell 
us, that all kind of satire, though never so well de- 
served by particular priests, yet brings the whole 
order into contempt. Is then the peerage of England 
anything dishonoured when a peer suffers for his 
treason? If he be libelled, or any way defamed, he has 
his scandalum magnatum to punish the offender. They 
who use this kind of argument seem to be conscious 
to themselves of somewhat which has deserved the 
poet's lash, and are less concerned for their pubhc 
capacity than for their private ; at least there is pride 
at the bottom of their reasoning. If the faults of men 
in orders are only to be judged among themselves, 
they are all in some sort parties; for, since they say 
the honour of their order is concerned in every 
member of it, how can we be sure that they will be 
impartial judges? How far I may be allowed to 
speak my opinion in this case, I know not; but I am 
sure a dispute of this nature caused mischief in 
abundance betwixt a King of England and an Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury; one standing up for the laws of 
his land, and the other for the honour (as he called 
it) of God's Church ; which ended in the murder of 
the prelate, and in the whipping of his Majesty from 
post to pillar for his penance. The learned and 
ingenious Dr. Drake has saved me the labour of 
inquiring into the esteem and reverence which the 
priests have had of old ; and I would rather extend 
than diminish any part of it : yet I must needs say, 
that when a priest provokes me without any occasion 
given him, I have no reason, unless it be the charity 
of a Christian, to forgive him : prior laesit is justification 
sufficient in the civil law. If I answer him in his own 
language, self-defence I am sure must be allowed me; 
and if I carry it farther, even to a sharp recrimina- 


tion, somewhat may be indulged to human frailty. 
Yet my resentment has not wrought so far but that 
I have followed Chaucer, in his character of a holy 
man, and have enlarged on that subject with some 
pleasure ; reserving to myself the right, if I shall think 
fit hereafter, to describe another sort of priests, such 
as are more easily to be found than the Good Parson ; 
such as have given the last blow to Christianity in 
this age, by a practice so contrary to their doctrine. 
But this will keep cold till another time. In the 
meanwhile, I take up Chaucer where I left him. 

He must have been a man of a most wonderful 
comprehensive nature, because, as it has been truly 
observed of him, he has taken into the compass of 
his Canterbury Tales the various manners and humours 
(as we now call them) of the whole English nation in 
his age. Not a single character has escaped him. 
All his pilgrims arc severally distinguished from each 
other; and not only in their incHnations, but in 
their very physiognomies and persons. Baptista Porta 
could not have described their natures better than by 
the marks which the poet gives them. The matter 
and manner of their tales, and of their telling, are so 
suited to their different educations, humours, and 
callings, that each of them would be improper in any 
other mouth. Even the grave and serious characters 
are distinguished by their several sorts of gravity; 
their discourses are such as belong to their age, their 
calling, and their breeding; such as are becoming of 
them, and of them only. Some of his persons are 
vicious, and some virtuous; some are unlearned, or 
(as Chaucer calls them) lewd, and some are learned. 
Even the ribaldry of the low characters is different: 
the Reeve, the Miller, and the Cook are several men, 
and distinguished from each other as much as the 
mincing Lady Prioress and the broad-speaking gap- 
toothed Wife of Bath. But enough of this; there is 
such a variety of game springing up before me that 
I am distracted in my choice, and know not which to 


follow. 'TIs sufficient to say, according to the proverb, 
that here is God's plenty. We have our forefathers and 
great-grand-dames all before us, as they were in 
Chaucer's days: their general characters are still 
remaining in mankind, and even in England, though 
they are called by other names than those of monks 
and friars and canons and lady abbesses and nuns; 
for mankind is ever the same, and nothing lost out of 
Nature, though everything is altered. May I have 
leave to do myself the justice (since my enemies will 
do me none, and are so far from granting me to be 
a good poet, that they will not allow me so much as to 
be a Christian, or a moral man), may I have leave, 
I say, to inform my reader, that I have confined my 
choice to such tales of Chaucer as savour nothing of 
immodesty. If I had desired more to please than to 
instruct, the Reeve, the Miller, the Shipman, the 
Merchant, the Sumner, and, above all, the Wife of 
Bath, in the Prologue to her Tale, would have pro- 
cured me as many friends and readers, as there are 
beaux and ladies of pleasure in the town. But I will 
no more offend against good manners: I am sensible 
as I ought to be of the scandal I have given by my 
loose writings ; and make what reparation I am able, 
by this public acknowledgement. If anything of this 
nature, or of profaneness, be crept into these poems, 
I am so far from defending it that I disown it. Totum 
hoc indictum volo. Chaucer makes another manner of 
apology for his broad speaking, and Boccace makes 
the like; but I will follow neither of them. Our 
countryman, in the end of his characters before the 
Canterbury Tales, thus excuses the ribaldry, which is 
very gross in many of his novels : 

But firs te, I pray you, of your courtesy. 
That ye ne arrete it not my villany. 
Though that I plainly speak in this mattere. 
To tellen you her words, and eke her chere: 
jV> though I speke her words properly. 
For this ye knowen as well as I, 


IVho shall tellen a tale ajter a man, 

He mote rehearse as nye as ever he can: 

Everich word of it ben in his charge, 

All speke he, never so rudely, ne large; 

Or else he mote tellen his tale untrue, 

Or feine things, or find words new: 

He may not spare, altho he were his brother 

He mote as wel say word as another. 

Crist spake himself Jul broad in holy Writ, 

And well I wote no villany is it. 

Eke Plato saith, who so can him rede. 

The words mote been cousin to the dede. 

Yet if a man should have inquired of Boccace or 
of Chaucer, what need they had of introducing such 
characters, where obscene words were proper in their 
mouths, but very indecent to be heard; I know not 
what answer they could have made; for that reason 
such tales shall be left untold by me. You have here 
a specimen of Chaucer's language, which is so obsolete 
that his sense is scarce to be understood; and you 
have likewise more than one example of his unequal 
numbers, which were mentioned before. Yet many 
of his verses consist of ten syllables, and the words not 
much behind our present English: as for example, 
these two lines, in the description of the carpenter's 
young wife: 

Wincing she was, as is a jolly colt, 
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt. 

I have almost done with Chaucer, when I have 
answered some objections relating to my present work. 
I find some people are offended that I have turned 
these tales into modern English; because they think 
them unworthy of my pains, and look on Chaucer 
as a dry, old-fashioned wit, not worth reviving. I 
have often heard the late Earl of Leicester say that 
Mr. Cowley himself was of that opinion; who, having 
read him over at my lord's request, declared he had 
no taste of him. I dare not advance my opinion 
against the judgement of so great an author; but I 


think it fair, ho\\'ever, to leave the decision to the 
pubhc. Mr. Cowley was too modest to set up for a 
dictator; and being shocked perhaps with his old 
style, never examined into the depth of his good sense. 
Chaucer, I confess, is a rough diamond, and must 
first be polished ere he shines. I deny not likewise, 
that, living in our early days of poetry, he writes not 
always of a piece; but sometimes mingles trivial things 
with those of greater moment. Sometimes also, 
though not often, he runs riot like Ovid, and knows 
not when he has said enough. But there are more 
great wits besides Chaucer whose fault is their excess 
of conceits, and those ill sorted. An author is not to 
write all he can, but only all he ought. Having 
observed this redundancy in Chaucer (as it is an 
easy matter for a man of ordinary parts to find a fault 
in one of greater), I have not tied myself to a literal 
translation; but have often omitted what I judged 
unnecessary, or not of dignity enough to appear in 
the company of better thoughts. I have presumed 
further, in some places, and added somewhat of my 
own where I thought my author was deficient, and 
had not given his thoughts their true lustre, for want 
of words in the beginning of our language. And to 
this I was the more emboldened, because (if I may 
be permitted to say it of myself) I found I had a soul 
congenial to his, and that I had been conversant in 
the same studies. Another poet, in another age, may 
take the same liberty with my writings; if at least they 
live long enough to deserve correction. It was also 
necessary sometimes to restore the sense of Chaucer, 
which was lost or mangled in the errors of the press. 
Let this example suffice at present: in the story of 
Palamon and Arcite, where the temple of Diana is 
described, you find these verses, in all the editions 
of our author : 

There saw I Dane turned into a tree, 

I mean not the goddess Diane, 

But Venus daughter, which that hight Dani. 


Which, after a httle consideration, I knew was to be 
reformed into this sense, that Daphne, the daughter of 
Peneus, was turned into a tree. I durst not make thus 
bold with Ovid, lest some future Milbourne should 
arise, and say, I varied from my author because I 
understood him not. 

But there are other judges, who think I ought not to 
have translated Chaucer into English, out of a quite 
contrary notion: they suppose there is a certain 
veneration due to his old language; and that it is 
little less than profanation and sacrilege to alter it. 
They are further of opinion, that somewhat of his 
good sense will suffer in this transfusion, and much 
of the beauty of his thoughts will infallibly be lost, 
which appear with more grace in their old habit. Of 
this opinion was that excellent person whom I men- 
tioned, the late Earl of Leicester, who valued Chaucer 
as much as Mr. Cowley despised him. My lord dis- 
suaded me from this attempt (for I was thinking 
of it some years before his death), and his authority 
prevailed so far with me, as to defer my undertaking 
while he lived, in deference to him: yet my reason 
was not convinced with what he urged against it. 
If the first end of a writer be to be understood, then, 
as his language grows obsolete, his thoughts must grow 
obscure : 

Malta renascentur, quae nunc cecidere; cadentque 
Quae nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus, 
Quern penes arbitrium est et ius et norma loquendi. 

When an ancient word, for its sound and signi- 
ficancy, deserves to be revived, I have that reasonable 
veneration for antiquity to restore it. All beyond this 
is superstition. Words are not like landmarks, so 
sacred as never to be removed ; customs are changed, 
and even statutes are silently repealed, when the 
reason ceases for which they were enacted. As for 
the other part of the argument, that his thoughts will 
lose of their original beauty by the innovation of 

240 H 


words; in the first place, not only their beauty but 
their being is lost where they are no longer under- 
stood, which is the present case. I grant that some- 
thing must be lost in all transfusion, that is, in all 
translations; but the sense will remain, which would 
otherwise be lost, or at least be maimed, when it is 
scarce intelligible, and that but to a few. How few are 
there, who can read Chaucer so as to understand him 
perfectly? And if imperfectly, then with less profit, 
and no pleasure. It is not for the use of some old 
Saxon friends that I have taken these pains with him: 
let them neglect my version, because they have no 
need of it. I made it for their sakes who understand 
sense and poetry as well as they, when that poetry 
and sense is put into words which they understand. 
I will go farther, and dare to add, that what beauties 
I lose in some places, I give to others which had 
them not originally : but in this I may be partial to 
myself; let the reader judge, and I submit to his 
decision. Yet I think I have just occasion to complain 
of them, who, because they understand Chaucer, 
would deprive the greater part of their country- 
men of the same advantage, and hoard him up, as 
misers do their grandam gold, only to look on it 
themselves, and hinder others from making use of 
it. In sum, I seriously protest that no man ever had, 
or can have, a greater veneration for Chaucer than 
myself. I have translated some part of his works, only 
that I might perpetuate his memory, or at least 
refresh it, amongst my countrymen. If I have altered 
him anywhere for the better, I must at the same time 
acknowledge that I could have done nothing without 
him. Facile est inventis addere is no great commenda- 
tion; and I am not so vain to think I have deserved 
a greater. I will conclude what I have to say of him 
singly, with this one remark : a lady of my acquain- 
tance, who keeps a kind of correspondence with some 
authors of the fair sex in France, has been informed 
by them, that Mademoiselle de Scudery, who is as old 


as Sibyl, and inspired like her by the same god of 
poetry, is at this time translating Chaucer into modern 
French. From which I gather, that he has been 
formerly translated into the old Provencal; for how 
she should come to understand old English, I know 
not. But the matter of fact being true, it makes me 
think that there is something in it like fatality; that, 
after certain periods of time, the fame and memory 
of great wits should be renewed, as Chaucer is both in 
France and England. If this be wholly chance, 'tis 
extraordinary; and I dare not call it more, for fear 
of being taxed with superstition. 

Boccace comes last to be considered, who, living 
in the same age with Chaucer, had the same genius, 
and followed the same studies. Both writ novels, and 
each of them cultivated his mother tongue. But the 
greatest resemblance of our two modern authors being 
in their familiar style and pleasing way of relating 
comical adventures, I may pass it over, because I 
have translated nothing from Boccace of that nature. 
In the serious part of poetry, the advantage is wholly 
on Chaucer's side; for though the Englishman has 
borrowed many tales from the Italian, yet it appears 
that those of Boccace were not generally of his own 
making, but taken from authors of former ages, and 
by him only modelled; so that what there was of 
invention in either of them may be judged equal. 
But Chaucer has refined on Boccace, and has mended 
the stories, which he has borrowed, in his way of 
telling ; though prose allows more liberty of thought, 
and the expression is more easy when unconfined by 
numbers. Our countryman carries weight, and yet 
wins the race at disadvantage. I desire not the reader 
should take my word; and, therefore, I will set two 
of their discourses, on the same subject, in the same 
light, for every man to judge betwixt them. I trans- 
lated Chaucer first, and, amongst the rest, pitched 
on The Wife of Bath's Tale ; not daring, as I have 
said, to adventure on her Prologue, because 'tis too 


licentious. There Chaucer introduces an old woman, 
of mean parentage, whom a youthful knight of noble 
blood was forced to marry, and consequently loathed 
her. The crone being in bed with him on the wedding- 
night, and finding his aversion, endeavours to win 
his affection by reason, and speaks a good word for 
herself (as who could blame her?) in hope to mollify 
the sullen bridegroom. She takes her topics from the 
benefits of poverty, the advantages of old age and 
ugUness, the vanity of youth, and the silly pride of 
ancestry and tides without inherent virtue, which is 
the true nobility. When I had closed Chaucer, I 
returned to Ovid, and translated some more of his 
fables; and, by this time, had so far forgotten The 
Wife of Bath's Tale, that when I took up Boccace, 
unawares I fell on the same argument, of preferring 
virtue to nobility of blood and tides, in the story of 
Sigismonda; which I had certainly avoided for the 
resemblance of the two discourses, if my memory had 
not failed me. Let the reader weigh them both ; and, 
if he thinks me partial to Chaucer, 'tis in him to 
right Boccace. 

I prefer in our countryman, far above all his other 
stories, the noble poem of Palamon and Arcite, which is 
of the epic kind, and perhaps not much inferior to 
the Ilias or the ^neis. The story is more pleasing than 
either of them, the manners as perfect, the diction 
as poetical, the learning as deep and various, and the 
disposition full as artful: only it includes a greater 
length of time, as taking up seven years at least; but 
Aristode has left undecided the duradon of the action ; 
which yet is easily reduced into the compass of a year 
by a narration of what preceded the return of Pala- 
mon to Athens. I had thought, for the honour of our 
narration, and more particularly for his, whose laurel, 
though unworthy, I have worn after him, that this 
story was of English growth, and Chaucer's own: but 
I was undeceived by Boccace; for, casually looking on 
the end of his seventh Giornata, I found Dioneo (under 


which name he shadows himself), and Fiametta (who 
represents his mistress, the natural daughter of 
Robert, King of Naples), of whom these words are 
spoken: Dioneo e Fiametta gran pezza cantarono insieme 
d'Arcita, e di Palemone; by which it appears, that this 
story was written before the time of Boccace ; but the 
name of its author being wholly lost, Chaucer is now 
become an original; and I question not but the poem 
has received many beauties by passing through his 
noble hands. Besides this tale, there is another of his 
own invention after the manner of the Provencals, 
called The Flower and the Leaf, with which I was so 
particularly pleased, both for the invention and the 
moral, that I cannot hinder myself from recommend- 
ing it to the reader. 

As a corollary to this preface, in which I have done 
justice to others, I owe somewhat to myself; not that 
I think it worth my time to enter the lists with one 
Milbourne and one Blackmore, but barely to take 
notice, that such men there are, who have written 
scurrilously against me, without any provocation. 
Milbourne, who is in orders, pretends, amongst the 
rest, this quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul on 
priesthood : if I have, I am only to ask pardon of good 
priests, and am afraid his part of the reparation will 
come to little. Let him be satisfied, that he shall not 
be able to force himself upon me for an adversary. 
I contemn him too much to enter into competi- 
tion with him. His own translations of Virgil have 
answered his criticisms on mine. If (as they say he 
has declared in print) he prefers the version of Ogilby 
to mine, the world has made him the same compU- 
ment; for 'tis agreed on all hands that he writes even 
below Ogilby. That, you will say, is not easily to be 
done; but what cannot Milbourne bring about? I am 
satisfied, however, that while he and I live together, 
I shall not be thought the worst poet of the age. It 
looks as if I had desired him underhand to write so 
ill against me; but upon my honest word I have not 

1 98 DRYDEN 

bribed him to do me service, and am wholly guiltless 
of his pamphlet. 'Tis true I should be glad if I could 
persuade him to continue his good offices, and write 
such another critique on anything of mine; for I find, 
by experience, he has a great stroke with the reader, 
when he condemns any of my poems, to make the 
world have a better opinion of them. He has taken 
some pains with my poetry; but nobody will be per- 
suaded to take the same with his. If I had taken to 
the Church, as he affirms, but which was never in 
my thoughts, I should have had more sense, if not 
more grace, than to have turned myself out of my 
benefice by writing libels on my parishioners. But 
his account of my manners and my principles are of 
a piece with his cavils and his poetry; and so I have 
done with him for ever. 

As for the City Bard, or Knight Physician, I hear 
his quarrel to me is, that I was the author of Absalom 
and Achitophel, which, he thinks, is a little hard on his 
fanatic patrons in London. 

But I vdil deal the more civilly with his two poems, 
because nothing ill is to be spoken of the dead ; and 
therefore peace be to the manes of his Arthurs. I will 
only say, that it was not for this noble knight that 
I drew the plan of an epic poem on King Arthur, in 
my preface to the translation o{ Juvenal. The guardian 
angels of kingdoms were machines too ponderous for 
him to manage; and therefore he rejected them, as 
Dares did the whirl-bats of Eryx when they were 
thrown before him by Entellus : yet from that preface 
he plainly took his hint; for he began immediately 
upon the story, though he had the baseness not to 
acknowledge his benefactor, but instead of it, to 
traduce me in a libel. 

I shall say the less of Mr. Collier, because in many 
things he has taxed me justly; and I have pleaded 
guilty to all thoughts and expressions of mine which 
can be truly argued of obscenity, profaneness, or 
immorality, and retract them. If he be my enemy. 


let him triumph ; if he be my friend, as I have given 
him no personal occasion to be otherwise, he will be 
glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to draw 
my pen in the defence of a bad cause, when I have 
so often drawn it for a good one. Yet it were not 
difficult to prove that in many places he has perverted 
my meaning by his glosses, and interpreted my words 
into blasphemy and bawdry of which they were not 
guilty. Besides that, he is too much given to horse- 
play in his raillery, and comes to battle like a dictator 
from the plough. I will not say, the zeal of God's house 
has eaten him up; but I am sure it has devoured some 
part of his good manners and civility. It might also 
be doubted whether it were altogether zeal which 
prompted him to this rough manner of proceeding; 
perhaps it became not one of his function to rake into 
the rubbish of ancient and modern plays: a divine 
might have employed his pains to better purpose than 
in the nastiness of Plautus and Aristophanes, whose 
examples, as they excuse not me, so it might be 
possibly supposed that he read them not without 
some pleasure. They who have written commen- 
taries on those poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and 
Martial, have explained some vices, which, without 
their interpretation, had been unknown to modern 
times. Neither has he judged impartially betwixt the 
former age and us. There is more bawdry in one play 
of Fletcher's, called The Custom of the Country, than in 
all ours together. Yet this has been often acted on 
the stage in my remembrance. Are the times so 
much more reformed now than they were five-and- 
twenty years ago? If they are, I congratulate the 
amendment of our morals. But I am not to prejudice 
the cause of my fellow poets, though I abandon my 
own defence : they have some of them answered for 
themselves; and neither they nor I can think Mr. 
Collier so formidable an enemy, that we should shun 
him. He has lost ground, at the latter end of the day, 
by pursuing his point too far, like the Prince of Conde 


at the battle of Senneph : from immoral plays to no 
plays, ab abusu ad usum, non valet consequentia. But, 
being a party, I am not to erect myself into a judge. 
As for the rest of those who have written against me, 
they are such scoundrels that they deserve not the 
least notice to be taken of them. Blackmore and 
Milbourne are only distinguished from the crowd 
by being remembered to their infamy: 

. . . Demetri, teque, Tigelli, 
Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras. 




That the ancient Poets derived their greatness from the nature 
of their subjects. 

IF the ancient poets excelled the moderns in the 
greatness of poetry, that is, in epic poetry, in 
tragedy, and in the greater ode, they must necessarily 
derive their pre-eminence from the subjects of which 
they treated, since it has been plainly made to appear 
that they could not derive it from any external or 
internal advantage. And it follows, that the subjects 
which were handled by the ancients must be different 
from those which have been treated of by the moderns. 
And if the poems which have been written by the 
ancients of the forementioned kinds were very much 
greater than those which have been produced by the 
moderns, why then it follows that the subjects were 
very different. But here the favourers of the moderns 
assert that the advantage which is to be drawn from 
the subject is purely on the side of the moderns. For 
who, for example, will compare the achievements of 
Achilles and Aeneas, the event of which was only the 
reducing two pitiful paltry bourgs with the glorious 
actions of some of our modern captains. But then the 
partisans of the ancients reply that there is a differ- 
ence between one subject and another, which their 
adversaries seem not to have thought of. For, say 
they, human subjects can never differ so much among 
themselves as sacred subjects differ from human, for 
the difference between the two last is as great as that 
between God and Man, which we know is infinite. 
Now, say they, sacred subjects are infinitely more 


susceptible of the greatness of poetry than profane 
ones can be. And the subjects of the ancients in the 
forementioned poems were sacred. Now that we may 
engage the lovers of the ancients in their turns by 
supporting their just pretensions, let us endeavour to 
show in the following chapters that sacred poems 
must be greater than profane ones can be, supposing 
equality of genius and equal art in the writers, and 
that the poems of the ancients in the forementioned 
kinds were sacred. But in order to the doing that, 
we must declare what poetry is and what is its chief 

That passion is the chief thing in poetry and that all passion 
is either ordinary passion or enthusiasm. 

But, before we proceed, let us define poetry; which 
is the first time that a definition has been given of 
that noble art ; for neither ancient nor modern critics 
have defined poetry in general. 

Poetry, then, is an imitation of Nature by a pathetic 
and numerous speech. Let us explain it. 

As poetry is an art, it must be an imitation of 
Nature. That the instrument with which it makes 
its imitation is speech need not be disputed. That 
that speech must be musical no one can doubt: for 
numbers distinguish the parts of poetic diction from 
the periods of prose. Now numbers are nothing but 
articulate sounds, and their pauses measured by their 
proper proportions of time. And the periods of pro- 
saic diction are articulate sounds, and their pauses 
unmeasured by such proportions. That the speech 
by which poetry makes its imitation must be pathetic 
is evident, for passion is still more necessary to it than 
harmony. For harmony only distinguishes its instru- 
ment from that of prose, but passion distinguishes its 
very nature and character. For therefore poetry is 
poetry, because it is more passionate and sensual than 
prose. A discourse that is written in very good 


numbers, if it wants passion, can be but measured 
prose. But a discourse that is everywhere extremely 
pathetic, and consequently everywhere bold and 
figurative, is certainly poetry without numbers. 

Passion, then, is the characteristical mark of poetry, 
and consequently must be everywhere. For wherever 
a discourse is not pathetic, there it is prosaic. As 
passion in a poem must be everywhere, so harmony 
is usually diffused throughout it. But passion answers 
the two ends of poetry better than harmony can do, 
and upon that account is preferable to it: for first it 
pleases more, which is evident : for passion can please 
without harmony, but harmony tires without passion. 
And in tragedy and in epic poetry a man may in- 
struct without harmony, but never without passion: 
for the one instructs by admiration, and the other by 
compassion and terror. And as for the greater ode, 
if it wants passion, it becomes hateful and intolerable, 
and its sentences grow contemptible. 

Passion is the characteristical mark of poetry, and 
therefore it must be everywhere; for without passion 
there can be no poetry, no more than tliere can be 
painting. And though the Poet and the Painter 
describe action, they must describe it with passion. 
Let any one who beholds a piece of painting, where 
the figures are shown in action, conclude that if the 
figures are without passion the painting is contemp- 
tible. There must be passion everywhere in poetry 
and painting, and the more passion there is, the better 
the poetry and the painting, unless the passion is too 
much for the subject; and the Painter and the Poet 
arrive at the height of their art when they describe 
a great deal of action with a great deal of passion. 
It is plain, then, from what has been said, that passion 
in poetry must be everywhere, for where there is no 
passion there can be no poetry, but that which we 
commonly call passion cannot be everywhere in 
any poem. There must be passion, then, that must 
be distinct from ordinary passion, and that must be 


enthusiasm. I call that ordinary passion, whose 
cause is clearly comprehended by him who feels it, 
whether it be admiration, terror, or joy; and I call 
the very same passions enthusiasms, when their cause 
is not clearly comprehended by him who feels them. 
And those enthusiastic passions are sometimes simple, 
and sometimes complicated, of all which we shall 
show examples lower. And thus I have shown that 
the chief thing in poetry is passion; but here the 
reader is desired to observe, that by poetry we mean 
poetry in general, and the body of poetry ; for as for 
the form or soul of particular poems, that is allowed 
by all to be a fable. But passion is the chief thing in 
the body of poetry, as spirit is in the human body. 
For wdthout spirit the body languishes, and the soul 
is impotent: now everything that they call spirit or 
genius in poetry, in short, everything that pleases, 
and consequently moves in the poetic diction, is 
passion, whether it be ordinary or enthusiastic. 

And thus we have shown what the chief excellence 
in the body of poetry is, which we have proved to be 
passion. Let us now proceed to the proofs of what 
we propounded, that sacred subjects are more sus- 
ceptible of passion than profane ones, and that the 
subjects of the ancients were sacred in their greater 
poetry — I mean either sacred in their own natures, 
or by their manner of handling them. 

That passion is more to be derived from a sacred subject than 
from a profane one. 

We have proved that passion is the chief thing in 
poetry, and that spirit or genius, and in short every- 
thing that moves, is passion. Now if the chief thing 
in poetry be passion, why, then, the chief thing in 
great poetry must be great passion. We have shown, 
too, that passion in poetry is of two sorts, ordinary 
passion or enthusiasm. Let us now proceed to con- 
vince the reader that a sacred poem is more suscep- 


tible of passion than a profane one can be; which to 
effect, let us show two things, that a sacred subject 
is as susceptible of ordinary passions as a profane 
one can be, and more susceptible of the enthusiastic. 
The first is evident from experience : for the poetry 
among the ancients which shall be hereafter proved 
to be sacred, had in it greater ordinary passions than 
their human poetry either had or could possibly have. 
'Tis now our business to show that religious sub- 
jects are capable of supplying us with more frequent 
and stronger enthusiasms than the profane. And in 
order to the clearing this, let us inquire what poetical 
enthusiasm is. Poetical enthusiasm is a passion guided 
by judgement, whose cause is not comprehended by 
us. That it is a passion is plain, because it moves. 
That the cause is not comprehended is self-evident. 
That it ought to be guided by judgement is indu- 
bitable. For otherwise it would be madness, and not 
poetical passion. But now let us inquire what the 
cause of poetical enthusiasm is, that has been hitherto 
not comprehended by us. That enthusiasm moves, is 
plain to sense ; why, then, it moved the writer : but 
if it moved the writer, it moved him while he was 
thinking. Now what can move a man while he is 
thinking but the thoughts that are in his inind? In 
short, enthusiasm as well as ordinary passions must 
proceed from the thoughts, as the passions of all 
reasonable creatures must certainly do ; but the reason 
why we know not the causes of enthusiastic as well as 
of ordinary passions, is because we are not so used to 
them, and because they proceed from thoughts, that 
latently and unobserved by us carry passion along 
with them. Here it would be no hard matter to prove 
that most of our thoughts are naturally attended with 
some sort and some degree of passion. And 'tis the 
expression of this passion which gives us so much 
pleasure, both in conversation and, in human authors. 
For I appeal to any man wljp is not altogether a 
philosopher, whether he is not most pleased with 


conversation and books that are spirited. Now how 
can this spirit please him, but because it moves him, 
or what can move him but passion? We never speak 
for so much as a minute together without different 
inflexions of voice. Now any one will find upon 
reflection that these variations and those inflexions 
mark our different passions. But all this passes un- 
regarded by us, by reason of long use, and the in- 
credible celerity of our thoughts, whose motion is so 
swift that it is even to ourselves imperceptible ; unless 
we come to reflect, and every one will not be at the 
trouble of that. Now these passions, when they grow 
strong, I call enthusiastic motions, and the stronger 
tliey are the greater the enthusiasm must be. If any 
one asks what sort of passions these are, that thus 
unknown to us flow from these thoughts, to him I 
answer, that the same sort of passions flow from the 
thoughts that would do from the things of which those 
thoughts are ideas. As for example, if the thing that 
we think of is great, why, then, admiration attends 
the idea of it ; and if it is very great, amazement. If 
the thing is pleasing and delightful, why then joy and 
gaiety flow from the idea of it; if it is sad, melancholy; 
if it is mischievous and powerful, then tlie imagination 
of it is attended with terror; and if 'tis both great and 
likely to do hurt and powerful, why then the thought 
of it is at once accompanied with wonder, terror, and 
astonishment. Add to all this that the mind producing 
these thoughts conceives by reflection a certain pride 
and joy and admiration, as at the conscious view of its 
own excellence. 

Now he who strictly examines the enthusiasm that 
is to be met with in the greater poetry will find that it is 
nothing but the fore-mentioned passions, either simple 
or complicated, proceeding from the thoughts from 
which they naturally flow, as "being the thoughts or 
images of things tl^at carry those passions along with 
them, as we shall shq^^r by examples in the following 


But these passions that attend upon our thoughts 
are seldom so strong as they are in those kind of 
thoughts which we call images. For they, being the 
very lively pictures of the things which they represent, 
set them, as it were, before our very eyes. But images 
are never so admirably drawn as when they are drawn 
in motion ; especially if the motion is violent. For the 
mind can never imagine violent motion without being 
in a violent agitation itself; and the imaginadon being 
fired with that agitation sets the very things before 
our eyes, and consequently makes us have the same 
passions that we should have from the things them- 
selves. For the warmer the imagination is, the more 
present the things are to us of which we draw the 
images; and, therefore, when once the imagination 
is so inflamed as to get the better of the understanding, 
there is no difference between the images and the 
things themselves; as we see, for example, in fears 
and madmen. 

Thus have we shown that enthusiasm flows from 
the thoughts, and consequently from the subject from 
which the thoughts proceed. For, as the spirit in 
poetry is to be proportioned to the thought — for 
otherwise it does not naturally flow from it, and 
consequently is not guided by judgement — so the 
thought is to be proportioned to the subject. Now no 
subject is so capable of supplying us with thoughts 
that necessarily produce these great and strong enthu- 
siasms as a reUgious subject: for all which is great 
in religion is most exalted and amazing, all that is 
joyful is transporting, all that is sad is dismal, and 
all that is terrible is astonishing. 





'nniS hard to say if greater want of skill 

J- Appear in writing or in judging ill ; 
But of the two, less dang'rous is th' offence 
To tire our patience than mislead our sense. 
Some few in that, but numbers err in this, 
Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss; 
A fool might once himself alone expose, 
Now one in verse makes many more in prose. 

'Tis with our judgements as our watches, none 
Go just alike, yet each believes his own. 
In poets as true genius is but rare. 
True taste as seldom is the critic's share; 
Both must alike from heav'n derive their light. 
These born to judge, as well as those to write. 
Let such teach others who themselves excel. 
And censure freely who have written well. 
Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true, 
But are not critics to their judgement too? 

Yet if we look more closely, we shall find 
Most have the seeds of judgement in their mind; 
Nature affords at least a glimm'ring light; 
The lines, tho' touch'd but faintly, are drawn right. 
But as the slightest sketch, if justly trac'd. 
Is by ill colouring but the more disgrac'd. 
So by false learning is good sense defac'd: 
Some are bewilder'd in the maze of schools, 
And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools. 
In search of wit these lose their common sense. 
And then turn critics in their o^n defence. 
Each burns alike, wljp can or cannot write, 
Or with a rival's or a eunuch's spite. 


All fools have still an itching to deride, 

And fain would be upon the laughing side. 

If Maevius scribble in Apollo's spite, 

There are who judge still worse than he can write. 

Some have at first for wits, then poets passed, 
Turn'd critics next, and prov'd plain fools at last. 
Some neither can for wits nor critics pass. 
As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass. 
Those half-learn'd widings, num'rous in our isle, 
As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; 
Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call. 
Their generation 's so equivocal : 
To tell 'em would a hundred tongues require, 
Or one vain wit's, that might a hundred tire. 

But you who seek to give and merit fame, 
And justly bear a critic's noble name. 
Be sure yourself and your own reach to know. 
How far your genius, taste, and learning go; 
Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, 
And mark that point where sense and dullness meet. 

Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit, 
And wisely curb'd proud man's pretending wit. 
As on the land while here the ocean gains, 
In other parts it leaves wide sandy plains ; 
Thus in the soul while memory prevails. 
The solid power of understanding fails; 
Where beams of warm imagination play, 
The memory's soft figures melt away. 
One science only will one genius fit; 
So vast is art, so narrow human wit: 
Not only bounded to peculiar arts. 
But oft in those confin'd to single parts. 
Like kings we lose the conquests gain'd before. 
By vain ambition still to make them more : 
Each might his sev'ral province well command. 
Would all but stoop to what they understand. 

First follow Nature, and your judgement frame 
By her just standard, which is still the same: 
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright. 


One clear, unchang'd, and universal light, 
Life, force, and beauty, must to all impart, 
At once the source, and end, and test of art. 
Art from that fund each just supply provides. 
Works without show, and without pomp presides: 
In some fair body thus th' informing soul 
With spirits feeds, with vigour fills the whole. 
Each moUon guides, and ev'ry nerve sustains; 
Itself unseen, but in th' effects, remains. 
Some, to whom heav'n in wit has been profuse, 
Want as much more, to turn it to its use; 
For wit and judgement often are at strife, 
Tho' meant each other's aid, like man and wife. 
'Tis more to guide, than spur the Muse's steed; 
Restrain his fury, than provoke his speed; 
The winged courser, like a gen'rous horse, 
-Shows most true mettle when you check his course. 

Those Rules of old discover'd, not devis'd, 
Are Nature still, but Nature methodiz'd; 
Nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd 
By the same laws which first herself ordain'd. 

Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules indites, 
When to repress, and when indulge our flights : 
High on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd. 
And pointed out those arduous paths they trod; 
Held from afar, aloft, th' immortal prize. 
And urged the rest by equal steps to rise. 
Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n, 
She drew from them what they deriv'd from heav'n. 
The gen'rous critic fann'd the poet's fire, 
And taught the world with reason to admire. 
Then criticism the Muse's handmaid prov'd. 
To dress her charms, and make her more belov'd : 
But following wits from that intention stray'd; 
Who could not win the mistress, woo'd the maid; 
Against the poets their own arms they turn'd. 
Sure to hate most the men from whom they learn'd. 
So modern 'pothecaries, taught the art 
By doctor's bills to play the doctor's part. 


Bold in the practice of mistaken rules, 
Prescribe, apply, and call their masters fools. 
Some on the leaves of ancient authors prey; 
Nor time nor moths e'er spoil'd so much as they: 
Some drily plain, without invention's aid. 
Write dull receipts how poems may be made. 
These leave the sense, their learning to display, 
And those explain the meaning quite away. 

You then whose judgement the right course would 
Know well each Ancient's proper character; 
His fable, subject, scope in ev'ry page; 
Religion, country, genius of his age : 
Without all these at once before your eyes, 
Cavil you may, but never criticize. 
Be Homer's works your study and delight, 
Read them by day, and meditate by night; 
Thence form your judgement, thence your maxima 

And trace the Muses upward to their spring; 
Still with itself compar'd, his text peruse ; 
And let your comment be the Mantuan Muse. 

When first young Maro in his boundless mind 
A work t' outlast immortal Rome design'd, 
Perhaps he seem'd above the critic's law, 
And but from Nature's fountains scorn'd to draw; 
But when t' examine ev'ry part he came. 
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same. 
Convinc'd, amaz'd, he checks the bold design; 
And rules as strict his labour'd work confine. 
As if the Stagirite o'erlook'd each line. 
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem; 
To copy Nature is to copy them. 

Some beauties yet no precepts can declare. 
For there's a happiness as well as care. 
Music resembles poetry; in each 
Are nameless graces which no methods teach. 
And which a master-hand alone can reach. 
If, where the rules not far enough extend 

212 POPE 

(Since rules were made but to promote their end), 

Some lucky Licence answer to the full 

Th' intent propos'd, that licence is a rule. 

Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take. 

May boldly deviate from the common track. 

Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend 

And rise to faults true critics dare not mend ; 

From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part, 

And snatch a grace beyond the reach of art, 

Which, without passing thro' the judgement, gains 

The heart, and all its end at once attains. 

In prospects thus, some objects please our eyes, 

Which out of Nature's common order rise. 

The shapeless rock, or hanging precipice. 

But tho' the ancients thus their rules invade 

(As kings dispense with laws themselves have made), 

Moderns, beware ! Or if you must offend 

Against the precept, ne'er transgress its end; 

Let it be seldom, and compell'd by need ; 

And have, at least, their precedent to plead. 

The critic else proceeds without remorse. 

Seizes your fame, and puts his laws in force. 

I know there are to whose presumptuous thoughts 
Those freer beauties, ev'n in them, seem faults. 
Some figures monstrous and mis-shap'd appear, 
Consider'd singly, or beheld too near. 
Which, but proportion'd to their light, or place, 
Due distance reconciles to form and grace. 
A prudent chief not always must display 
His pow'rs in equal ranks, and fair array, 
But with th' occasion and the place comply, 
Conceal his force, may seem sometimes to fly. 
Those oft are stratagems which errors seem. 
Nor is it Homer nods, but we that dream. 

Still green with bays each ancient altar stands. 
Above the reach of sacrilegious hands ; 
Secure from flames, from envy's fiercer rage, 
Destructive war, and all-involving age. 
Sec, from each clime the learn'd their incense bring! 


Hear, in all tongues consenting paeans ring! 

In praise so just let ev'ry voice be join'd, 

And fill the gen'ral chorus of mankind ! 

Hail, bards triumphant! born in happier days; 

Immortal heirs of universal praise! 

Whose honours with increase of ages grow, 

As streams roll down, enlarging as they flow; 

Nations unborn your mighty names shall sound. 

And worlds applaud that must not yet be found! 

Oh may some spark of your celestial fire, 

The last, the meanest of your sons inspire 

(That on weak wings, from far, pursues your flights. 

Glows while he reads, but trembles as he writes) 

To teach vain wits a science little known, 

T' admire superior sense, and doubt their own ! 


Of all the causes which conspire to blind 
Man's erring judgement, and misguide the mind, 
What the weak head with strongest bias rules. 
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools. 
Whatever Nature has in worth denied, 
She gives in large recruits of needful pride; 
For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find 
What wants in blood and spirits, swell'd with wind: 
Pride, where wit fails, steps in to our defence. 
And fills up all the mighty void of sense. 
If once right reason drives that cloud away 
Truth breaks upon us with resistless day. 
Trust not your self; but your defects to know. 
Make use of ev'ry friend — and ev'ry foe. 
A little learning is a dang'rous thing; 
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: 
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, 
And drinking largely sobers us again. 
Fir'd at first sight with what the Muse imparts. 
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts, 
While from the bounded level of our mind 

214 POPE 

Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind; 
But more advanc'd, behold with strange surprise 
New distant scenes of endless science rise ! 
So pleas'd at first the tow'ring Alps we try, 
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky, 
Th' eternal snows appear already past, 
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last: 
But those attain'd, we tremble to survey 
The growing labours of the lengthen'd way, 
Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'ring eyes, 
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise ! 

A perfect judge will read each work of wit 
With the same spirit that its author writ: 
Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find 
Where Nature moves, and rapture warms the mind; 
Nor lose, for that malignant dull delight. 
The gen'rous pleasure to be charm'd with wit. 
But in such lays as neither ebb, nor flow, 
Correctly cold, and regularly low, 
That shunning faults one quiet tenor keep ; 
We cannot blame indeed — but we may sleep. 
In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts 
Is not th' exactness of peculiar parts ; 
'Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call. 
But the joint force and full result of all. 
Thus when we view some well-proportion'd dome 
(The world's just wonder, and ev'n thine, O Rome!), 
No single parts unequally surprise, 
All comes united to th' admiring eyes; 
No monstrous height, or breadth, or length appear; 
The whole at once is bold, and regular. 

Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see. 
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. 
In ev'ry work regard the writer's end. 
Since none can compass more than they intend; 
And if the means be just, the conduct true, 
Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due; 
As men of breeding, sometimes men of wit, 
T' avoid great errors, must the less commit: 


Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays, 
For not to know some trifles, is a praise. 
Most critics, fond of some subservient art, 
Still make the whole depend upon a part: 
They talk of principles, but notions prize, 
And all to one lov'd folly sacrifice. 

Once on a time. La Mancha's knight, they say, 
A certain bard encount'ring on the way, 
Discours'd in terms as just, with looks as sage. 
As e'er could Dennis, of the Grecian stage ; 
Concluding all were desp'rate sots and fools, 
Who durst depart from Aristotle's rules. 
Our author, happy in a judge so nice, 
Produc'd his play, and begg'd the knight's advice; 
Made him observe the subject, and the plot, 
The manners, passions, unities; what not? 
All which, exact to rule, were brought about. 
Were but a combat In the lists left out, 
'What! leave the combat out?' exclaims the knight. 
Yes, or we must renounce the Stagirite. 
*Not so, by Heav'n' (he answers in a rage), 
'Knights, squires, and steeds, must enter on the stage.' 
So vast a throng the stage can ne'er contain. 
'Then build a new, or act It in a plain.' 

Thus critics, of less judgement than caprice. 
Curious, not knowing, not exact but nice. 
Form short ideas; and offend in arts 
(As most in manners) by a love to parts. 

Some to conceit alone their taste confine, 
And glitt'ring thoughts struck out at ev'ry line; 
Pleas'd with a work where nothing's just or fit. 
One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit. 
Poets, like painters, thus unskill'd to trace 
The naked nature and the living grace, 
With gold and jewels cover ev'ry part. 
And hide with ornaments their want of art. 
True wit Is Nature to advantage dressed, 
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed; 
Something, whose truth convinc'd at sight we find. 

2i6 POPE 

That gives us back the image of our mind. 

As shades more sweetly recommend the hght, 

So modest plainness sets off sprightly wit. 

For works may have more wit than does 'em good. 

As bodies perish through excess of blood. 

Others for language all their care express. 
And value books, as women men, for dress : 
Their praise is still — the style is excellent; 
The sense, they humbly take upon content. 
Words are like leaves ; and where they most abound. 
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. 
False eloquence, like the prismatic glass. 
Its gaudy colours spreads on ev'ry place; 
The face of Nature we no more survey. 
All glares alike, without distinction gay: 
But true expression, like th' unchanging sun. 
Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon. 
It gilds all objects but it alters none. 
Expression is the dress of thought, and still 
Appears more decent, as more suitable; 
A vile conceit in pompous words expressed 
Is like a clown in regal purple dressed : 
For diff 'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort, 
As several garbs with country, town, and court. 
Some by old words to fame have made pretence, 
Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense; 
Such labour'd nothings, in so strange a style. 
Amaze th' unlearn'd, and make the learned smile. 
Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play. 
These sparks with awkward vanity display 
What the fine gentleman wore yesterday! 
And but so mimic ancient wits at best, 
As apes our grandsires, in their doublets dressed. 
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold, 
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old : 
Be not the first by whom the new are tried, 
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside. 

But most by numbers judge a poet's song. 
And smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong: 


In the bright Muse tho' thousand charms conspire, 

Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire : 

Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear, 

Not mend their minds; as some to church repair, 

Not for the doctrine, but the music there. 

These equal syllables alone require, 

Tho' oft the ear the open vowels tire; 

While expletives their feeble aid do join, 

And ten low words oft creep in one dull line : 

While they ring round the same unvaried chimes. 

With sure returns of still expected rhymes ; 

Where'er you find 'the cooling western breeze', 

In the next line, it 'whispers thro' the trees' : 

If 'crystal streams with pleasing murmurs creep', 

The reader's threaten'd (not in vain) with 'sleep': 

Then, at the last and only couplet fraught 

With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, 

A needless Alexandrine ends the song, 

That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length 

Leave such to tune their own dull rhymes, and know 
What's roundly smooth or languishingly slow; 
And praise the eager vigour of a line. 
Where Denham's strength, and Waller's sweetness 

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, 
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. 
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence. 
The sound must seem an echo to the sense : 
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, 
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows; 
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore. 
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar: 
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw, 
The line too labours, and the words move slow; 
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain, 
Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the 

Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise. 

2i8 POPE 

And bid alternate passions fall and rise ! 
While, at each change, the son of Libyan Jove 
Now burns with glory, and then melts with love; 
Now his fierce eyes with sparkling fury glow, 
Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow: 
Persians and Greeks like turns of nature found. 
And the world's victor stood subdu'd by Sound! 
The pow'r of music all our hearts allow, 
And what Timotheus was, is Dryden now. 

Avoid extremes ; and shun the fault of such 
Who still are pieas'd too little or too much. 
At ev'ry trifle scorn to take offence, 
That always shows great pride, or little sense; 
Those heads, as stomachs, are not sure the best. 
Which nauseate all, and nothing can digest. 
Yet let not each gay turn thy rapture move; 
For fools admire, but men of sense approve : 
As things seem large which we thro' mists descry. 
Dullness is ever apt to magnify. 

Some foreign writers, some our own despise; 
The ancients only, or the moderns prize. 
Thus wit, like faith, by each man is applied 
To one small sect, and all are damn'd beside. 
Meanly they seek the blessing to confine. 
And force that sun but on a part to shine. 
Which not alone the southern wit sublimes, 
But ripens spirits in cold northern climes; 
Which from the first has shone on ages past, 
Enlights the present, and shall warm the last; 
(Tho' each may feel increases and decays. 
And see now clearer and now darker days.) 
Regard not then if wit be old or new. 
But blame the false, and value still the true. 

Some ne'er advance a judgement of their o\vn, 
But catch the spreading notion of the town ; 
They reason and conclude by precedent, 
And own stale nonsense which they ne'er invent. 
Some judge of authors' names, not works, and then 
Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men. 


Of all this servile herd the worst is he 
That in proud dulness joins with quality. 
A constant critic at the great man's board, 
To fetch and carry nonsense for my lord. 
What woful stuff this madrigal would be, 
In some starv'd hackney sonneteer or me ! 
But let a lord once own the happy hnes, 
How the wit brightens ! How the style refines 
Before his sacred name flies ev'ry fault, 
And each exalted stanza teems with thought! 

The vulgar thus through imitation err; 
As oft the learn'd by being singular ; 
So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng 
By chance go right, they purposely go wrong; 
So schismatics the plain behevers quit, 
And are but damn'd for having too much wit. 

Some praise at morning what they blame at night; 
But always think the last opinion right. 
A Muse by these is like a mistress us'd. 
This hour she 's idoliz'd, the next abus'd ; 
While their weak heads like towns unfortified, 
'Twixt sense and nonsense daily change their side. 
Ask them the cause; they're wiser still, they say; 
And still to-morrow's wiser than to-day. 
We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow, 
Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so. 
Once school-divines this zealous isle o'erspread ; 
Who knew most 'sentences' was deepest read; 
Faith, gospel, all, seem'd made to be disputed. 
And none had sense enough to be confuted : 
Scotists and Thomists now in peace remain. 
Amidst their kindred cobwebs in Duck-Lane. 
If faith itself has diff'rent dresses worn. 
What wonder modes in wit should take their turn? 
Oft, leaving what is natural and fit. 
The current folly proves the ready wit; 
And authors think their reputation safe, 
Which Uves as long as fools are pleas'd to laugh. 

Some valuing those of their own side or mind. 

220 POPE 

Still make themselves the measure of mankind: 
Fondly we think we honour merit then, 
When we but praise ourselves in other men. 
Parties in wit attend on those of state, 
And public faction doubles private hate. 
Pride, maUce, folly, against Dryden rose. 
In various shapes of parsons, critics, beaux; 
But sense surviv'd, when merry jests were past; 
For rising merit will buoy up at last. 
Might he return, and bless once more our eyes, 
New Blackmores and new Milbourns must arise: 
Nay should great Homer lift his awful head, 
Zoilus again would start up from the dead. 
Envy will merit, as its shade, pursue; 
But like a shadow, proves the substance true; 
For envied wit, like Sol eclips'd, makes known 
Th' opposing body's grossness, not its own, 
WTien first that sun too pow'rful beams displays, 
It draws up vapours which obscure its rays; 
But ev'n those clouds at last adorn its way. 
Reflect new glories and augment the day. 
Be thou the first true merit to befriend ; 
His praise is lost, who stays till all commend. 
Short is the date, alas, of modern rhymes. 
And 'tis but just to let 'em Uve betimes. 
No longer now that golden age appears. 
When patriarch-wits surviv'd a thousand years: 
Now length of fame (our second life) is lost, 
And bare threescore is all ev'n that can boast; 
Our sons their fathers' failing language see, 
And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be. 
So when the faithful pencil has design'd 
Some bright idea of the master's mind. 
Where a new world leaps out at his command. 
And ready nature waits upon his hand ; 
When the ripe colours soften and unite. 
And sweetly melt into just shade and Hght; 
When mellowing years their full perfection give. 
And each bold figure just begins to live. 


The trcach'rous colours the fair art betray, 

And all the bright creation fades away ! 
Unhappy wit, like most mistaken things, 

Atones not for that envy which it brings. 

In youth alone its empty praise we boast, 

But soon the short-liv'd vanity is lost: 

Like some fair flow'r the early spring supplies, 

That gaily blooms, but ev'n in blooming dies. 

What is this wit, which must our cares employ? 

The owner's wife, that other men enjoy; 

Then most our trouble still when most admir'd. 

And still the more we give, the more required ; 

Whose fame with pains we guard, but lose with 

Sure some to vex, but never all to please; 
"Tis what the vicious fear, the virtuous shun, 

By fools 'tis hated, and by knaves undone! 
If wit so much from ign'rance undergo. 
Ah let not learning too commence its foe ! 
Of old, those met rewards who could excel, 
And such were prais'd who but endeavour'd well : 
Tho' triumphs were to gen'rals only due. 
Crowns were reserv'd to grace the soldiers too. 
Now, they who reach Parnassus' lofty crown. 
Employ their pains to spurn some others down; 
And while self-love each jealous writer rules, 
Contending wits become the sport of fools : 
But still the worst with most regret commend. 
For each ill author is as bad a friend. 
To what base ends, and by what abject ways, 
Are mortals urg'd thro' sacred lust of praise ! 
Ah ne'er so dire a thirst of glory boast, 
Nor in the critic let the man be lost ! 
Good-nature and good-sense must ever join; 
To err is human, to forgive, divine. 

But if in noble minds some dregs remain. 
Not yet purg'd off, of spleen and sour disdain ; 
Discharge that rage on more provoking crimes, 
Nor fear a dearth in these flagitious times. 

222 POPE 

No pardon vile obscenity should find, 
Tho' wit and art conspire to move your mind; 
But dulness with obscenity must prove 
As shameful, sure, as impotence in love. 
In the fat age of pleasure, wealth, and ease, 
Sprung the rank weed, and thriv'd with large in- 
crease : 
When love was all an easy monarch's care, 
Seldom at council, never in a war. 
Jilts rul'd the state, and statesmen farces writ; 
Nay, wits had pensions, and young lords had wit: 
The fair sat panting at a courtier's play, 
And not a mask went unimprov'd away: 
The modest fan was lifted up no more. 
And virgins smil'd at what they blush'd before. — 
The following licence of a foreign reign 
Did all the dregs of bold Socinus drain ; 
Then unbelieving priests reform'd the nation, 
And taught more pleasant methods of salvation; 
Where Heav'n's free subjects might their rights 

Lest God himself should seem too absolute: 
Pulpits their sacred satire learn'd to spare. 
And Vice admir'd to find a flatt'rer there! 
Encourag'd thus. Wit's Titans brav'd the skies, 
And the press groan'd with licenc'd blasphemies. 
These monsters, critics ! with your darts engage. 
Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage! 
Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice, 
Will needs mistake an author into vice; 
All seems infected that th' infected spy. 
As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye. 


Learn then what morals critics ought to show, 
For 'tis but half a judge's task, to know. 
'Tis not enough, taste, judgement, learning, join; 
In all you speak, let truth and candour shine: 


That not alone what to your sense is due 
All may allow; but seek your friendship too. 
Be silent always when you doubt your sense; 
And speak, tho' sure, with seeming diffidence: 
Some positive, persisting fops we know, 
Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so ; 
But you, with pleasure own your errors past, 
And make each day a critique on the last. 

'Tis not enough, your counsel still be true; 
Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do; 
Men must be taught as if you taught them not, 
And things unknown propos'd as things forgot. 
Without good breeding, truth is disapprov'd: 
That only makes superior sense belov'd. 

Be niggards of advice on no pretence ; 
For the worst avarice is that of sense. 
With mean complacence ne'er betray your trust. 
Nor be so civil as to prove unjust. 
Fear not the anger of the wise to raise : 
Those best can bear reproof, who merit praise. 

'Twere well might critics still this freedom take. 
But Appius reddens at each word you speak. 
And stares, tremendous, with a threat'ning eye. 
Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry. 
Fear most to tax an honourable fool. 
Whose right it is, uncensur'd, to be dull ; 
Such without wit are poets when they please. 
As without learning they can take degrees. 
Leave dang'rous truths to unsuccessful satires. 
And flattery to fulsome dedicators, 
Whom, when they praise, the world believes no more 
Than when they promise to give scribbling o'er. 
'Tis best sometimes your censure to restrain, 
And charitably let the dull be vain: 
Your silence there is better than your spite, 
For who can rail so long as they can write? 
Still humming on, their drowsy course they keep. 
And lash'd so long, like tops, are lash'd asleep. 
False steps but help them to renew the race. 

224 POPE 

As, after stumbling, jades will mend their pace. 

What crowds of these, impenitently bold, 

In sounds and jingling syllables grown old, 

Still run on poets, in a raging vein, 

Ev'n to the dregs and squeezings of the brain. 

Strain out the last dull droppings of their sense, 

And rhyme with all the rage of impotence ! 

Such shameless bards we have; and yet 'tis true. 
There are as mad, abandon'd critics too. 
The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read. 
With loads of learned lumber in his head. 
With his own tongue still edifies his ears. 
And always list'ning to himself appears. 
All books he reads, and all he reads assails, 
From Dryden's fables down to Durfy's tales. 
With him, most authors steal their works, or buy; 
Garth did not write his own Dispensary. 
Name a new play, and he 's the poet's friend, 
Nay, show'd his faults — but when would poets mend? 
No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd, 
Nor is Paul's Church more safe than Paul's church- 
Nay, fly to altars ; there they'll talk you dead : 
For fools rush in where angels fear to tread. 
Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks. 
It still looks home, and short excursions makes; 
But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks. 
And never shock'd, and never turn'd aside. 
Bursts out, resistless, with a thund'ring tide ! 

But where 's the man who counsel can bestow, 
Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know? 
Unbiass'd or by favour, or by spite; 
Not dully prepossess'd, nor blindly right; 
Tho' learn'd, well-bred; and tho' well-bred, sincere. 
Modestly bold, and humanly severe : 
Who to a friend his faults can freely show, 
And gladly praise the merit of a foe ; 
Blest with a taste exact, yet unconfin'd ; 
A knowledge both of books and humankind : 


Gen'rous converse; a soul exempt from pride; 
And love to praise, with reason on his side? 

Such once were critics ; such the happy few, 
Athens and Rome in better ages knew. 
The mighty Stagirite first left the shore, 
Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore: 
He steer'd securely, and discover'd far, 
Led by the light of the Maeonian star. 
Poets, a race long unconfin'd, and free, 
Still fond and proud of savage liberty, 
Received his laws; and stood convinc'd 'twas fit, 
Who conquer'd Nature, should preside o'er Wit. 

Horace still charms with graceful negligence. 
And without method talks us into sense; 
Will, like a friend, familiarly convey 
The truest notions in the easiest way. 
He, who supreme in judgement, as in wit, 
Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ. 
Yet judg'd with coolness, tho' he sung with fire; 
His precepts teach but what his works inspire. 
Our critics take a contrary extreme. 
They judge with fury, but they write with phlegm: 
Nor suffers Horace more in wrong translations 
By wits, than critics in as wrong quotations. 

See Dionysius Homer's thoughts refine. 
And call new beauties forth from ev'ry fine! 

Fancy and art in gay Petronius please. 
The scholar's learning, with the courtier's ease. 

In grave Quintilian's copious work, we find 
The justest rules, and clearest method join'd : 
Thus useful arms in magazines we place. 
All rang'd in order, and dispos'd with grace; 
But less to please the eye, than arm the hand, 
Still fit for use, and ready at command. 

Thee, bold Longinus! all the Nine inspire. 
And bless their critic with a poet's fire. 
An ardent judge, who zealous in his trust. 
With warmth gives sentence, yet is always just; 
Whose own example strengthens all his laws; 

240 I 

226 POPE 

And is himself that great sublime he draws. 

Thus long succeeding critics justly reign'd. 
Licence repress'd, and useful laws ordain'd. 
Learning and Rome alike in empire grew; 
And arts still foUow'd where her eagles flew; 
From the same foes, at last, both felt their doom, 
And the same age saw learning fall, and Rome. 
With tyranny then superstition join'd, 
As that the body, this enslav'd the mind; 
Much was believ'd, but little understood, 
And to be dull was constru'd to be good; 
A second deluge learning thus o'er-run, 
And the monks finish'd what the Goths begun. 

At length Erasmus, that great, injur'd name 
(The glory of the priesthood, and the shame!), 
Stemm'd the wild torrent of a barb'rous age, 
And drove those holy vandals off the stage. 

But see ! each Muse, in Leo's golden days. 
Starts from her trance, and trims her wither'd bays. 
Rome's ancient genius, o'er its ruins spread, 
Shakes off the dust, and rears his rev'rend head. 
Then sculpture and her sister-arts revive; 
Stones leap'd to form, and rocks began to live; 
With sweeter notes each rising temple rung; 
A Raphael painted, and a Vida sung! 
Immortal Vida! on whose honour'd brow 
The poet's bays and critic's ivy grow: 
Cremona now shall ever boast thy name, 
As next in place to Mantua, next in fame ! 

But soon by impious arms from Latium chas'd, 
Their ancient bounds the banish'd Muses pass'd; 
Thence arts o'er all the northern world advance. 
But critic-learning flourish'd most in France. 
The rules a nation, born to serve, obeys; 
And Boileau still in right of Horace sways. 
But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despis'd. 
And kept unconquer'd, and unciviliz'd; 
Fierce for the liberties of wit, and bold, 
We still defied the Romans, as of old. 


Yet some there were, among the sounder few 

Of those who less presum'd, and better knew, 

Who durst assert the juster ancient cause, 

And here restor'd Wit's fundamental laws. 

Such was the Muse, whose rules and practice tell, 

'Nature's chief masterpiece is writing well.' 

Such was Roscommon — not more learn'd than good, 

With manners gen'rous as his noble blood; 

To him the wit of Greece and Rome was known. 

And ev'ry author's merit, but his own. 

Such late was Walsh — the Muse's judge and friend. 

Who justly knew to blame or to commend ; 

To failings mild, but zealous for desert; 

The clearest head, and the sincerest heart. 

This humble praise, lamented shade ! receive. 

This praise at least a grateful Muse may give: 

The Muse, whose early voice you taught to sing, 

Prescrib'd her heights, and prun'd her tender wing, 

(Her guide now lost) no more attempts to rise. 

But in low numbers short excursions tries : 

Content, if hence th' unlearn'd their wants may view, 

The learn'd reflect on what before they knew: 

Careless of censure, nor too fond of fame ; 

Still pleas'd to praise, yet not afraid to blame, 

Averse alike to flatter, or offend ; 

Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend. 


[The Spectator, Nos. 70, 74: 1711] 


Interdum vulgus rectum videt. 

HoR. Epist. ii. I. 63. 

WHEN I travelled, I took a particular delight in 
hearing the songs and fables that are come from 
father to son, and are most in vogue among the 
common people of the countries through which I 
passed; for it is impossible that anything should be 
universally tasted and approved by a multitude, 
though they are only the rabble of a nation, which 
hath not in it some peculiar aptness to please and 
gratify the mind of man. Human nature is the same 
in all reasonable creatures; and whatever falls in 
with it will meet with admirers amongst readers of all 
qualities and conditions. Moliere, as we are told by 
Monsieur Boileau, used to read all his comedies to 
an old woman who was his housekeeper, as she sat 
with him at her work by the chimney-corner; and 
could foretell the success of his play in the theatre, 
from the reception it met at his fire-side: for he tells 
us that the audience always followed the old woman, 
and never failed to laugh in the same place. 

I know nothing which more shows the essential and 
inherent perfection of simplicity of thought, above 
that which I call the Gothic manner in writing, than 
this, that the first pleases all kinds of palates, and the 
latter only such as have formed to themselves a wrong 
artificial taste upon little fanciful authors and writers 
of epigram. Homer, Virgil, or Milton, so far as the 
language of their poems is understood, will please 
a reader of plain common sense, who could neither 


relish nor comprehend an epigram of Martial, or a 
poem of Cowley : so, on the contrary, an ordinary song 
or ballad that is the delight of the common people 
cannot fail to please all such readers as are not 
unqualified for the entertainment by their affectation 
or ignorance; and the reason is plain, because the 
same paintings of nature which recommend it to the 
most ordinary reader will appear beautiful to the 
most refined. 

The old song of Chevy-Chase is the favourite ballad 
of the common people of England, and Ben Jonson 
used to say he had rather have been the author of it 
than of all his works. Sir Philip Sidney in his Dis- 
course of Poetry speaks of it in the following words : 
'I never heard the old song of Piercy and Douglas, 
that I found not my heart more moved than with 
a trumpet; and yet it is sung but by some blind 
crowder with no rougher voice than rude style; 
which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cob- 
webs of that uncivil age, what would it work trimmed 
in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar?' For my own 
part, I am so professed an admirer of this antiquated 
song, that I shall give my reader a critique upon it 
without any further apology for so doing. 

The greatest modern critics have laid it down as 
a rule, that an heroic poem should be founded upon 
some important precept of morality, and adapted 
to the constitution of the country in which the poet 
writes. Homer and Virgil have formed their plans 
in this view. As Greece was a collection of many 
governments, who suffered very much among them- 
selves, and gave the Persian emperor, who was their 
common enemy, many advantages over them by their 
mutual jealousies and animosities. Homer, in order 
to establish among them a union which was so 
necessary for their safety, grounds his poem upon the 
discords of the several Grecian princes who were 
engaged in a confederacy against an Asiatic prince, 
and the several advantages which the enemy gained 


by such their discords. At the time the poem we are 
now treating of was written, the dissensions of the 
barons, who were then so many petty princes, ran 
very high, whether they quarrelled among them- 
selves or with their neighbours, and produced un- 
speakable calamities to the country : the poet, to deter 
men from such unnatural contentions, describes a 
bloody battle and dreadful scene of death, occasioned 
by the mutual feuds which reigned in the families of 
an English and Scotch nobleman: that he designed 
this for the instruction of his poem, we may learn 
from his four last lines, in which, after the example 
of the modern tragedians, he draws from it a precept 
for the benefit of his readers : 

God save the King, and bless the land 

In plenty, joy, and peace ; 
And grant henceforth that foul debate 

'Twixt noblemen may cease. 

The next point observed by the greatest heroic 
poets hath been, to celebrate persons and actions 
which do honour to their country: thus Virgil's hero 
was the founder of Rome, Homer's a prince of Greece; 
and for this reason Valerius Flaccus and Statius, who 
were both Romans, might be jusdy derided for having 
chosen the expedition of the Golden Fleece, and the 
Wars of Thebes, for the subject of their epic writings. 

The poet before us has not only found out an hero 
in his own country, but raises the reputation of it by 
several beautiful incidents. The English are the first 
who take the field, and the last who quit it. The 
English bring only fifteen hundred to the battle, the 
Scotch two thousand. The English keep the field 
with fifty-three; the Scotch retire with fifty-five; all 
the rest on each side being slain in the battle. But the 
most remarkable circumstance of this kind is, the 
different manner in which the Scotch and EngUsh 
kings receive the news of this fight, and of the great 
men's deatlis who commanded in it. 


This news was brought to Edinburgh, 
Where Scotland's king did reign, 

That brave Earl Douglas suddenly 
Was with an arrow slain. 

heavy news ! King James did say, 
Scotland can witness be, 

1 have not any captain more 

Of such account as he. 

Like tidings to King Henry came 

Within as short a space, 
That Piercy of Northumberland 

Was slain in Chevy-Chase. 

Now God be with him, said our King, 

Sith 'twill no better be, 
I trust I have within my realm 

Five hundred as good as he. 

Yet shall not Scot nor Scotland say 

But I will vengeance take, 
And be revenged on them all 

For brave Lord Piercy's sake. 

This vow full well the King perform'd 

After on Humble-down, 
In one day fifty knights were slain, 

W ith lords of great renown. 

And of the rest of small account 
Did many thousands die, &c. 

At the same time that the poet shows a laudable 
partiality to his countrymen, he represents the Scots 
after a manner not unbecoming so bold and brave a 

Earl Douglas on a milk-white steed, 

Most like a baron bold. 
Rode foremost of the company. 

Whose armour shone Uke gold. 

His sentiments and actions are every way suitable 
to an hero. One of iis two, says he, must die : I am 


an earl as well as yourself, so that you can have no 
pretence for refusing the combat: however, says he, 
it is pity, and indeed would be a sin, that so many 
irmocent men should perish for our sakes; rather 
let you and I end our quarrel in single fight. 

Ere thus I will outbraved be, 

One of us two shall die; 
I know thee well, an earl thou art, 

Lord Piercy, so am I. 

But trust mc, Piercy, pity it were. 

And great offence, to kill 
Any of tliese our harmless men, 

For they have done no ill. 

Let thou and I the battle try, 

And set our men aside; 
Accurs'd be he, Lord Piercy said, 

By whom this is denied. 

When these brave men had distinguished them- 
selves in the battle and in single combat with each 
other, in the midst of a generous parley, full of heroic 
sentiments, the Scotch earl falls; and with his dying 
words encourages his men to revenge his death, repre- 
senting to them, as the most bitter circumstance of 
it, that his rival saw him fall. 

With that there came an arrow keen 

Out of an English bow, 
Which struck Earl Douglas to the heart 

A deep and deadly blow. 

Who never spake more words than these. 

Fight on, my merry men all, 
For why, my life is at an end, 

Lord Piercy sees my fall. 

Merry men, in the language of those times, is no 
more than a cheerful word for companions and 
fellow-soldiers. A passage in the eleventh book of 
Virgil's Aeneid is very much to be admired, where 
Camilla in her last agonies, instead of weeping over 


the wound she had received, as one might have 
expected from a warrior of her sex, considers only 
(like the hero of whom we are now speaking) how 
the battle should be continued after her death. 

Turn sic expirans, etc. 

A gathering mist o'erclouds her cheerful eyes; 
And from her cheeks the rosy colour flies. 
Then turns to her, whom of her female train 
She trusted most, and thus she speaks with pain. 
Acca, 'tis past! he swims before my sight. 
Inexorable death; and claims his right. 
Bear my last words to Turnus, fly with speed, 
And bid him timely to my charge succeed : 
Repel the Trojans, and the town relieve: 



Turnus did not die in so heroic a manner: though 
our poet seems to have had his eye upon Turnus's 
speech in the last verse. 

Lord Piercy sees my fall. 

Vicisti, et victum tendere palmas 
Ausonii videre. 

Aen. xii. 936. 

Earl Piercy's lamentation over his enemy is gen- 
erous, beautiful, and passionate : I must only caution 
the reader not to let the simplicity of the style, 
which one may well pardon in so old a poet, pre- 
judice him against the greatness of the thought. 

Then leaving life, Earl Piercy took 

The dead man by the hand. 
And said, Earl Douglas, for thy life 

Would I had lost my land. 

O Christ! my very heart doth bleed 

With sorrow for thy sake ; 
For sure a more renowned knight 

Mischance did never take. 

That beautiful line, Taking the dead man by the hand. 


will put the reader in mind of Aeneas's behaviour 
towards Lausus, whom he himself had slain as he came 
to the rescue of his aged father. 

At vera ut vultum vidit morientis, et or a, 

Ora modis Anchisiades pallentia miris, 

Irigemuit, miserans graviter, dextramque tetendit, etc. 

Aen. X. 822. 

The pious prince beheld young Lausus dead ; 

He griev'd, he wept; then grasp'd his hand, and said. 

Poor hapless youth ! what praises can be paid 

To worth so great! 


I shall take another opportunity to consider the 
other parts of this old song. 


Pendent opera interrupta. — Virg. Aen. iv. 88. 

In my last Monday's paper I gave some general 
instances of those beautiful strokes which please the 
reader in the old song of Chevy-Chase : I shall here, 
according to my promise, be more particular, and 
show that the sentiments in that ballad are extremely 
natural and poetical, and full of the majestic simph- 
city we admire in the greatest of the ancient poets; 
for which reason I shall quote several passages of it, 
in which the thought is altogether the same with 
what we meet in several passages of the Aeneid; not 
that I would infer from thence, that the poet (whoever 
he was) proposed to himself any imitation of those 
passages, but that he was directed to them in general 
by the same kind of poetical genius, and by the same 
copyings after nature. 

Had this old song been filled with epigrammatical 
turns and points of wit, it might perhaps have pleased 
the wrong taste of some readers; but it would never 
have become the delight of the common people, nor 


have warmed the heart of Sir Philip Sidney Ukc the 
sound of a trumpet; it is only nature that can have 
this effect, and please those tastes which are the most 
unprejudiced or the most refined. I must, however, 
beg leave to dissent from so great an authority as 
that of Sir PhiUp Sidney, in the judgement which 
he has passed as to the rude style and evil apparel 
of this antiquated song; for there are several parts 
in it where not only the thought but the language 
is majestic, and the numbers sonorous; at least, the 
apparel is much more gorgeous than many of the poets 
made use of in Queen Elizabeth's time, as the reader 
will see in several of the following quotations. 

What can be greater than either the thought or 
the expression in that stanza : 

To drive the deer with hound and horn 

Earl Piercy took his way; 
The child may rue that is unborn 

The hunting of that day. 

This way of considering the misfortunes which this 
battle would bring upon posterity, not only on those 
who were born immediately after the battle, and 
lost their fathers in it, but on those also who perished 
in future battles, which took their rise from this 
quarrel of the two earls, is wonderfully beautiful, and 
conformable to the way of thinking among the an- 
cient poets. 

Audiet pugnas vitio parentum 

HoR. Od. i. 2, 23. 

What can be more sounding and poetical, or resemble 
more the majestic simplicity of the ancients, than the 
following stanzas : 

The stout Earl of Northumberland 

A vow to God did make, 
His pleasure in the Scottish woods 

Three summer's days to take. 


With fifteen hundred bowmen bold. 

All chosen men of might, 
Who knew full well, in time of need. 

To aim their shafts aright. 

The hounds ran swiftly through the woods, 

The nimble deer to take; 
And with their cries the hills and dales 

An echo shrill did make. 

Vocat ingenti clamore Cithaeron 
Yaygetique canes, domitrixque Epidaurus equorum: 
Et vox assensu nemorum ingeminata remugit. 

Georg. iii. 43. 

Lo, yonder doth Earl Douglas come, 

His men in armour bright; 
Full twenty hundred Scottish spears, 

All marching in our sight. 

All men of pleasant Tividale, 
Fast by tlie river Tweed, &c. 

The country of the Scotch warriors, described in 
these two last verses, has a fine romantic situation, 
and affords a couple of smooth words for verse. If 
the reader compares the foregoing six lines of the 
song with the following Latin verses, he will see hov^r 
much they are written in the spirit of Virgil : 

Adversi canipo apparent hastasque redudis 
Protendunt longe dextris, et spicula vibrant; 

Quique altion Praeneste viri, quique arva Gabinae 
Jimonis, gelidumque Anienem, et roscida rivis 
Hernica saxa colunt: 

— qui rosea rura Velini, 
Qui Tetricae horrentis rupes, montemque Severwn, 
Casperiamque colunt, Forulosque etflumen Hinullae: 
Qui Tiberim Fabarimque bibunt. 

Aen. xi. 605; vii. 682, 712. 
But to proceed: 

Earl Douglas on a milk-white steed. 

Most like a baron bold, 
Rode foremost of the company. 

Whose armour shone like gold. 


Tumus ut antevolans tardum praecesserat agmen, etc. 
Vidisti, quo Turnus equo, quibus ibat in armis 

Our English archers bent their bo\A'S, 
Their hearts were good and true; 

At the first flight of arrows sent, 
Full threescore Scots they slew. 

They closed full fast on ev'ry side. 

No slackness there was found; 
And many a gallant gentleman 

Lay gasping on the ground. 

With that there came an arrow keen 

Out of an English bow. 
Which struck Earl Douglas to the heart 

A deep and deadly blow. 

Aeneas was wounded after the same manner by an 
vmknown hand in the midst of a parley: 

Has inter voces, media inter talia verba, 
Ecce viro stridem alls allapsa sagitta est, 
Incertum qua pulsa manu. 

Aen. xii, 318. 

But of all the descriptive parts of this song, there 
are none more beautiful than the four following 
stanzas, which have a great force and spirit in them, 
and are filled with very natural circumstances. The 
thought in the third stanza was never touched by 
any other poet, and is such a one as would have 
shined in Homer or Virgil. 

So thus did both these nobles die, 
Whose courage none could stain : 

An English archer then perceived 
The noble Earl was slain. 

He had a bow bent in his hand, 

Made of a trusty tree, 
An arrow of a cloth-yard long 

Unto the head drew he. 


Against Sir Hugh Montgomery 

So right his shaft he set, 
The gray goose wing that was thereon 

In his heart-blood was wet. 

This sight did last from break of day 

Till setting of the sun; 
For when they rung the cv'ning-bcll. 

The battle scarce was done. 

One may observe likewise, that in the catalogue of 
the slain the author has followed the example of the 
greatest ancient poets, not only in giving a long list 
of the dead, but by diversifying it with little characters 
of particular persons : 

And with Earl Douglas there was slain 

Sir Hugh Montgomery, 
Sir Charles Carrel, that from the field 

One foot would never fly: 

Sir Charles Murrel of RatcUff too. 

His sister's son was he: 
Sir David Lamb, so well esteem'd. 

Yet saved could not be. 

The familiar sound in these names destroys the 
majesty of the description; for this reason I do not 
mention this part of the poem but to show the natural 
cast of thought which appears in it, as the two last 
verses look almost like a translation of Virgil: 

Cadit et Ripheus, justissimus unus 
Quifuit in Teucris et servantissimus aequi, 
Diis aliter visum est. 

Aen. ii. 426. 

In the catalogue of the English who fell, Withering- 
ton's behaviour is in the same manner particular- 
ized very artfully, as the reader is prepared for it 
by that account which is given of him in the begin- 
ning of the battle; though I am satisfied that your 
litde buffoon readers (who have seen that passage 
ridiculed in Hudibras) will not be able to take the 


beauty of it : for which reason I dare not so much as 
quote it. 

Then stept a gallant squire forth, 

Witherington was his name, 
Who said, I would not have it told 

To Henry our King for shame. 
That e'er my captain fought on foot. 

And I stood looking on. 

We meet with the same heroic sentiments in Virgil: 

Non pudet, Rutuli, cunctis pro talibus unam 
Objectare animam ? numerone an viribus aequi 
J^on sumits? 

Aen. xii. 229. 

What can be more natural or more moving, than the 
circumstances in which he describes the behaviour of 
those women who had lost their husbands on this 
fatal day: 

Next day did many widows come, 

Their husbands to bewail; 
They wash'd their wounds in brinish tears, 

But all would not prevail. 

Their bodies bathed in purple blood. 

They bore with them away: 
They kiss'd them dead a thousand times. 

When they were clad in clay. 

Thus we see how the thoughts of this poem, which 
naturally arise from the subject, are always simple, 
and sometimes exquisitely noble; that the language 
is often very sounding; and that the whole is written 
with a true poetical spirit. 

If this song had been written in the Gothic manner, 
which is the delight of all our little wits, whether 
writers or readers, it would not have hit the taste of 
so many ages, and have pleased the readers of all 
ranks and conditions. I shall only beg pardon for 
such a profusion of Latin quotations ; which I should 
not have made use of, but that I feared my own 


judgement would have looked too singular on such 
a subject, had not I supported it by the practice and 
authority of Virgil. 

[The Spectator, Nos. 267, 273, 279, 285: 1712] 

i. The Fable. 

Cedite Romani scriptores, cedite Graii. — Propert. 

There is nothing in Nature so irksome as general 
discourses, especially when they turn chiefly upon 
words. For this reason I shall waive the discussion 
of that point which was started some years since, 
whether Milton's Paradise Lost may be called an heroic 
poem. Those who will not give it that title may call 
it (if they please) a divine poem. It will be sufficient 
to its perfection, if it has in it all the beauties of the 
highest kind of poetry ; and as for those who allege 
it is not an heroic poem, they advance no more to the 
diminution of it than if they should say Adam is not 
Aeneas, nor Eve Helen. 

I shall therefore examine it by the rules of epic 
poetry, and see whether it falls short of the Iliad 
or Aeneid, in the beauties which are essential to that 
kind of writing. The first thing to be considered in 
an epic poem is the fable, which is perfect or im- 
perfect, according as the action which it relates is 
more or less so. This action should have three 
qualifications in it. First, it should be but one action. 
Secondly, it should be an entire action; and thirdly, 
it should be a great action. To consider the action 
of the Iliad, Aeneid, and Paradise Lost, in these three 
several lights. Homer to preserve the unity of his 
action hastens into the midst of things, as Horace has 
observed. Had he gone up to Leda's Egg, or begun 
much later, even at the rape of Helen, or the invest- 
ing of Troy, it is manifest that the story of the poem 

would have been a series of several actions. He there- 
fore opens his poem with the discord of his princes, 
and with great art interweaves in the several succeed- 
ing parts of it an account of everything material 
which relates to them, and had passed before that 
fatal dissension. After the same manner Aeneas makes 
his first appearance in the Tyrrhene Seas, and within 
sight of Italy, because the action proposed to be 
celebrated was that of his settling himself in Latium. 
But because it was necessary for the reader to know 
what had happened to him in the taking of Troy, and 
in the preceding parts of his voyage, Virgil makes 
his hero relate it by way of episode in the second and 
third books of the Aeneid. The contents of both which 
books come before those of the first book in the 
thread of the story, though for preserving of this unity 
of action they follow them in the disposition of the 
poem. Milton, in imitation of these two great poets, 
opens his Paradise Lost with an infernal council plot- 
ting the fall of man, which is the action he proposed 
to celebrate; and as for those great actions which 
preceded, in point of time, the battle of the angels 
and the creation of the world (which would have 
entirely destroyed the unity of his principal action, 
had he related them in the same order that they 
happened), he cast them into the fifth, sixth, and 
seventh books, by way of episode to this noble poem. 
Aristotle himself allows that Homer has nothing 
to boast of as to the unity of his fable, though at the 
same time that great critic and philosopher endea- 
vours to palliate this imperfection in the Greek poet, by 
imputing it in some measure to the very nature of an 
epic poem. Some have been of opinion that the Aeneid 
labours also in this particular, and has episodes which 
may be looked upon as excrescences rather than as 
parts of the action. On the contrary, the poem which 
we have now under our consideration, hatii no other 
episodes than such as naturally arise from the subject, 
and yet is filled with such a multitude of astonbhing 


incidents that it gives us at the same time a pleasure 
of the greatest variety, and of the greatest simpHcity. 

I must observe also, that as Virgil in the poem 
which was designed to celebrate the original of the 
Roman Empire, has described the birth of its great 
rival, the Carthaginian Commonwealth : Milton, with 
the like art in his poem on the fall of man, has re- 
lated the fall of those angels who are his professed 
enemies. Besides the many other beauties in such an 
episode, its running parallel with the great action 
of the poem hinders it from breaking the unity so 
much as another episode would have done, that had 
not so great an affinity with the principal subject. In 
short, this is the same kind of beauty which the critics 
admire in the Spanish Friar, or the Double Discovery, 
where the two different plots look like counterparts 
and copies of one another. 

The second qualification required in the action of 
an epic poem is that it should be an entire action. 
An action is entire when it is complete in all its 
parts; or, as Aristotle describes it, when it consists 
of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nothing 
should go before it, be intermixed with it, or follow 
after it, that is not related to it. As on the con- 
trary, no single step should be omitted in that just 
and regular process which it must be supposed to 
take from its original to its consummation. Thus we 
see the anger of Achilles in its birth, its continuance 
and effects ; and Aeneas's settlement in Italy, carried 
on through all the oppositions in his way to it both 
by sea and land. The action in Milton excels (I think) 
both the former in this particular; we see it contrived 
in HeU. executed upon Earth, and punished by 
Heaven. The parts of it are told in the most distinct 
manner, and grow out of one another in the most 
natural method. 

The third qualification of an epic poem is its 
greatness. The anger of Achilles was of such con- 
sequence that it embroiled the kings of Greece, de- 


stroyed the heroes of Troy, and engaged all the gods 
in factions. Aeneas's settlement in Italy produced the 
Caesars, and gave birth to the Roman Empire. 
Milton's subject was still greater than either of the 
former; it does not determine the fate of single per- 
sons or nations, but of a whole species. The united 
powers of hell are joined together for the destruction 
of mankind, which they effected in part, and would 
have completed had not Omnipotence itself inter- 
posed. The principal actors are Man in his greatest 
perfection and Woman in her highest beauty. Their 
enemies are the fallen angels; the Messiah their 
friend, and the Almighty their protector. In short, 
everything that is great in the whole circle of being, 
whether within the verge of Nature or out of it, has 
a proper part assigned it in this noble poem. 

In poetry, as in architecture, not only the whole, 
but the principal members, and every part of them, 
should be great. I will not presume to say that the 
book of games in the Aeneid, or that in the Iliad, are 
not of this nature, nor to reprehend Virgil's 'simile 
of the top', and many other of the same nature in 
the Iliad, as liable to any censure in this particular; 
but I think we may say, without derogating from those 
wonderful performances, that there is an unquestion- 
able magnificence in every part of Paradise Lost, and 
indeed a much greater than could have been formed 
upon any pagan system. 

But Aristotle, by the greatness of the action, does 
not only mean that it should be great in its nature, 
but also in its duration, or, in other words, that it 
should have a due length in it, as well as what we 
properly call greatness. The just measure of the kind 
of magnitude he explains by the following similitude. 
An animal, no bigger than a mite, cannot appear 
perfect to the eye, because the sight takes it in at 
once, and has only a confused idea of the whole, and 
not a distinct idea of all its parts. If, on the contrary, 
you should suppose an animal of ten thousand 


furlongs in length, the eye would be so filled with a 
single part of it that it could not give the mind an 
idea of the whole. What these animals are to the 
eye, a very short or a very long action would be to 
the memory. The first would be, as it were, lost and 
swallowed up by it, and the other difficult to be 
contained in it. Homer and Virgil have shown their 
principal art in this particular; the action of the Iliad, 
and that of the Aeneid, were in themselves exceeding 
short, but are so beautifully extended and diversified 
by the invention of episodes and the machinery of 
gods with the like poetical ornaments, that they make 
up an agreeable story sufficient to employ the memory 
without overcharging it. Milton's action is enriched 
with such a variety of circumstances that I have taken 
as much pleasure in reading the Contents of his 
Books as in the best invented story I ever met with 
It is possible that the traditions on which the Iliad 
and Aeneid were built had more circumstances in them 
than the history of the fall of man, as it is related 
in Scripture. Besides, it was easier for Homer and 
Virgil to dash the truth with fiction, as they were 
in no danger of offending the religion of their country 
by it. But as for Milton, he had not only a very few 
circumstances upon which to raise his poem, but was 
also obliged to proceed with the greatest caution in 
everything that he added out of his own invention. 
And indeed, notwithstanding all the restraints he 
was under, he has filled his story with so many 
surprising incidents, which bear so close an analogy 
with what is delivered in Holy Writ, that it is capable 
of pleasing the most delicate reader without giving 
oflfence to the most scrupulous. 

The modern critics have collected from several 
hints in the Iliad and Aeneid the space of time which 
is taken up by the action of each of those poems; 
but as a great part of Milton's story was transa^cted 
in regions that lie out of the reach of the sun and the 
sphere of day, it is impossible to gratify the reader 


with such a calculation, which indeed would be more 
curious than instructive; none of the critics, either 
ancient or modern, having laid down rules to circum- 
scribe the action of an epic poem with any deter- 
mined number of years, days, or hours. 

ii. The Characters. 
Notandi sunt tibi mores. — Hor. 

Having examined the action of Paradise Lost, let 
us in the next place consider the actors. This is 
Aristotle's method of considering : first the fable, and 
secondly the manners, or as we generally call them 
in English, the fable and the characters. 

Homer has excelled all the heroic poets that ever 
wrote, in the multitude and variety of his characters. 
Every god that is admitted into his poem, acts a part 
which would have been suitable to no other deity. 
His princes are as much distinguished by their man- 
ners as by their dominions; and even those among 
them whose characters seem wholly made up of 
courage, differ from one another as to the particular 
kinds of courage in which they excel. In short, there 
is scarce a speech or action in the Iliad which the 
reader may not ascribe to the person that speaks or 
acts, without seeing his name at the head of it. 

Homer does not only outshine all other poets in 
the variety, but also in the novelty of his characters. 
He has introduced among his Grecian princes a per- 
son who had lived thrice the age of man, and con- 
versed with Theseus, Hercules, Polyphemus, and the 
first race of heroes. His principal actor is the son of a 
goddess, not to mention the offspring of other deities, 
who have likewise a place in his poem, and the 
venerable Trojan prince who was the father of so 
many kings and heroes. There is in these several 
characters of Homer a certain dignity as well as 
novelty, which adapts them in a more peculiar 


manner to the nature of an heroic poem. Though, at 
the same time, to give them the greater variety, he 
has described a Vulcan, that is a buffoon among his 
gods, and a Thersites among his mortals. 

Virgil falls infinitely short of Homer in the charac- 
ters of his poem, both as to their variety and novelty. 
Aeneas is indeed a perfect character, but as for 
Achates, though he is styled the hero's friend, he does 
nothing in the whole poem which may deserve that 
title. Gyas, Mnesteus, Sergestus, and Cloanthus, are 
all of them men of the same stamp and character: 

Fortemque Cyan, fortemque Cloanthum. — Virg. 

There are indeed several very natural incidents in 
the part of Ascanius; as that of Dido cannot be 
sufficiently admired. I do not see anything new or 
particular in Turnus. Pallas and Evander are copies 
of Hector and Priam, as Lausus and Mezentius are 
almost parallels to Pallas and Evander. The charac- 
ters of Nisus and Euryalus are beautiful, but common. 
We must not forget the parts of Sinon, Camilla, and 
some few others, which are beautiful improvements 
on the Greek poet. In short, there is neither that 
variety nor novelty in the persons of the Aeneid, which 
we meet with in those of the Iliad. 

If we look into the characters of Milton we shall 
find that he has introduced all the variety his poem 
was capable of receiving. The whole species of man- 
kind was in two persons at the time to which the sub- 
ject of his poem is confined. We have, however, four 
distinct characters in these two persons. We see Man 
and Woman in the highest innocence and perfection, 
and in the most abject state of guilt and infirmity. 
The two last characters are, indeed, very common 
and obvious, but the two first are not only more 
magnificent, but more new than any characters either 
in Virgil or Homer, or indeed in the whole circle of 

Milton was so sensible of this defect in the subject 


of his poem, and of the few characters it would afford 
him, that he has brought into it two actors of a 
shadowy and fictitious nature, in the persons of Sin 
and Death, by which means he has interwoven in the 
body of his fable a very beautiful and well-invented 
allegory. But notwithstanding the fineness of this 
allegory may atone for it in some measure, I cannot 
think that persons of such a chimerical existence are 
proper actors in an epic poem; because there is not 
that measure of probability annexed to them, which 
is requisite in writings of this kind, as I shall show 
more at large hereafter. 

Virgil has, indeed, admitted Fame as an actress 
in the Aeneid, but the part she acts is very short, 
and none of the most admired circumstances in that 
divine work. We find in mock-heroic poems, particu- 
larly in the Dispensary and the Lutrin, several allegorical 
persons of this nature, which are very beautiful in 
those compositions, and may, perhaps, be used as an 
argument, that the authors of them were of opinion 
such characters might have a place in an epic work. 
For my own part I should be glad the reader would 
think so, for the sake of the poem I am now examining, 
and must further add, that if such empty unsubstantial 
beings may be ever made use of on this occasion, there 
were never any more nicely imagined and employed 
in more proper actions, than those of which I am now 

Another principal actor in this poem is the great 
enemy of mankind. The part of Ulysses in Homer's 
Odyssey is very much admired by Aristotle, as per- 
plexing that fable with very agreeable plots and 
intricacies, not only by the many adventures in his 
voyage, and the subtilty of his behaviour, but by the 
various concealments and discoveries of his person in 
several parts of that poem. But the crafty being I 
have now mentioned makes a much longer voyage 
than Ulysses, puts in practice many more wiles and 
stratagems, and hides himself under a greater variety 


of shapes and appearances, all of which are severally 

detected, to the great delight and surprise of the 


We may likewise observe with how much art the 
poet has varied several characters of the persons that 
speak in his infernal assembly. On the contrary, how 
has he represented the whole Godhead exerting itself 
towards man in its full benevolence under the three- 
fold distinction of a Creator, a Redeemer, and a 
Comforter ! 

Nor must we omit the person of Raphael, who 
amidst his tenderness and friendship for man, shows 
such a dignity and condescension in all his speech and 
behaviour as are suitable to a superior nature. The 
angels are indeed as much diversified in Milton, and 
distinguished by their proper parts, as the gods are 
in Homer or Virgil. The reader will find nothing 
ascribed to Uriel, Gabriel, Michael, or Raphael, which 
is not in a particular manner suitable to their respec- 
tive characters. 

There is another circumstance in the principal 
actors of the Iliad and Aeneid, which gives a pecuUar 
beauty to those two poems, and was therefore con- 
trived with very great judgement. I mean the authors 
having chosen for their heroes persons who were so 
nearly related to the people for whom they wrote. 
Achilles was a Greek, and Aeneas the remote founder 
of Rome. By this means their countrymen (whom 
they principally proposed to themselves for their 
readers) were particularly attentive to all the parts of 
their story, and sympathized with their heroes in all 
their adventures. A Roman could not but rejoice in 
the escapes, successes, and victories of Aeneas, and be 
grieved at any defeats, misfortunes, or disappointments 
that befell him ; as a Greek must have had the same 
regard for Achilles. And it is plain that each of those 
poems have lost this great advantage, among those 
readers to whom their heroes are as strangers, or 
indifferent persons. 


Milton's poem is admirable in this respect, since 
it is impossible for any of its readers, whatever nation, 
country, or people he may belong to, not to be related 
to the persons who are the principal actors in it; but 
what is still infinitely more to its advantage, the 
principal actors in this poem are not only our pro- 
genitors but our representatives. We have an actual 
interest in everything they do, and no less than our 
utmost happiness is concerned, and lies at stake in 
all their behaviour. 

I shall subjoin as a corollary to the foregoing 
remark, an admirable observation out of Aristotle, 
which hath been very much misrepresented in the 
quotations of some modern critics; 'If a man of perfect 
and consummate virtue falls into a misfortune, it 
raises our pity, but not our terror, because we do not 
fear that it may be our own case, who do not resemble 
the suffering person.' But, as that great philosopher 
adds, 'If we see a man of virtues mixed with infirmities 
fall into any misfortune, it does not only raise our 
pity but our terror; because we are afraid that the 
like misfortunes may happen to ourselves, who re- 
semble the character of the suflFering person.' 

I shall take another opportunity to observe that 
a person of an absolute and consummate virtue should 
never be introduced in tragedy, and shall only remark 
in this place that the foregoing observation of Aristotle, 
though it may be true in oth^- occasions, does not 
hold in this; because in the present case, though the 
persons who fall into misfortune are of the most perfect 
and consummate virtue, it is not to be considered as 
what may possibly be, but what actually is our own 
case; since we are embarked with them on the same 
bottom, and must be partakers of their happiness or 

In this, and some other very few instances, Aristotle's 
rules for epic poetry (which he had drawn from his 
reflections upon Homer) cannot be supposed to quad- 
rate exactly with the heroic poems which have been 


made since his time ; as it is plain his rules would have 
been still more perfect, could he have perused the 
Aeneid which was made some hundred years after his 

In my next I shall go through other parts of Milton's 
poem; and hope that what I shall there advance, as 
well as what I have already written, will not only 
serve as a comment upon Milton, but upon Aristotle. 

iii. The Sentiment. 
Reddere personae scit convenientia cuique. — HoR. 

We have already taken a general survey of the 
fable and characters in Milton's Paradise Lost. The 
parts which remain to be considered, according to 
Aristotle's method, are the sentiments and the lan- 
guage. Before I enter upon the first of these, I must 
advertise my reader, that it is my design as soon as 
I have finished my general reflections on these four 
several heads, to give particular instances out of the 
poem which is now before us of beauties and imperfec- 
tions which may be observed under each of them, as 
also of such other particulars as may not properly 
fall under any of them. This I thought fit to premise, 
that the reader may not judge too hastily of this piece 
of criticism, or look upon it as imperfect, before he 
has seen the whole extent of it. 

The sentiments in all epic poems are the thoughts 
and behaviour which the author ascribes to the 
persons whom he introduces, and arc just when they 
are conformable to the characters of the several 
persons. The sentiments have likewise a relation to 
things as well as persons, and are then perfect when 
they are such as are adapted to the subject. If in 
either of these cases the poet argues, or explains, 
magnifies or diminishes, raises love or hatred, pity or 
terror, or any other passion, we ought to consider 
whether the sentiments he makes use of are proper 

for their ends. Homer is censured by the critics for 
his defect as to this particular in several parts of the 
Iliad and Odyssey, though at the same time those who 
have treated this great poet with candour, have 
attributed this defect to the times in which he lived. 
It was the fault of the age, and not of Homer, if there 
wants that delicacy in some of his sentiments, which 
appears in the works of men of a much inferior genius. 
Besides, if there are blemishes in any particular 
thoughts, there is an infinite beauty in the greatest 
part of them. In short, if there are many poets who 
would not have fallen into the meanness of some of 
his sentiments, there are none who could have risen 
up to the greatness of others. Virgil has excelled all 
others in the propriety of his sentiments. Milton 
shines likewise very much in this particular: nor must 
we omit one consideration which adds to his honour 
and reputation. Homer and Virgil introduced persons 
whose characters are commonly known among men, 
and such as are to be met with either in history or in 
ordinary conversation. Milton's characters, most of 
them, lie out of Nature, and were to be formed purely 
by his own invention. It shows a greater genius in 
Shakespeare to have drawn his Caliban than his 
Hotspur or Julius Caesar : the one was to be supplied 
out of his own imagination, whereas the other might 
have been formed upon tradition, history, and obser- 
vation. It was much easier therefore for Homer^ to 
find proper sentiments for an assembly of Grecian 
generals, than for Milton to diversify his infernal 
council with proper characters, and inspire them with 
a variety of sentiments. The loves of Dido and Aeneas 
are only copies of what has passed between other 
persons. Adam and Eve, before the fall, are a different 
species from that of mankind, who are descended from 
them ; and none but a poet of the most unbounded 
invention, and the most exquisite judgement, could 
have filled their conversation and behaviour with such 
beautiful circumstances during their state of innocence. 


Nor is it sufficient for an epic poem to be filled 
with such thoughts as are natural, unless it abound 
also with such as are sublime. Virgil in this particular 
falls short of Homer. He has not indeed so many 
thoughts that are low and vulgar, but at the same 
time has not so many thoughts that are sublime and 
noble. The truth of it is, Virgil seldom rises into very 
astonishing sentiments, where he is not fired by the 
Iliad. He everywhere charms and pleases us by the 
force of his own genius, but seldom elevates and 
transports us where he does not fetch his hints from 

Milton's chief talent, and indeed his distinguishing 
excellence, lies in the sublimity of his thoughts. There 
are others of the moderns who rival him in every other 
part of poetry; but in the greatness of his sentiments 
he triumphs over all the poets both modern and 
ancient, Homer only excepted. It is impossible for the 
imagination of man to distend itself with greater ideas 
than those which he has laid together in his first, 
second, and tenth books. The seventh, which describes 
the creation of the world, is likewise wonderfully sub- 
lime, though not so apt to stir up emotion in the 
mind of the reader, nor consequently so perfect in the 
epic way of writing, because it is filled with less action. 
Let the reader compare what Longinus has observed 
on several passages in Homer, and he will find parallels 
for most of them in the Paradise Lost. 

From what has been said we may infer that as 
there are two kinds of sentiments, the natural and 
tlie sublime, which are always to be pursued in an 
heroic poem, there are also two kinds of thoughts 
which are carefully to be avoided. The first are such 
as are affected and unnatural ; the second such as are 
mean and vulgar. As for the first kind of thoughts we 
meet with little or nothing that is like them in Virgil. 
He has none of those little points and puerilities that 
are so often to be met with in Ovid, none of the 
epigrammatic turns of Lucan, none of those swelling 


sentiments which are so frequently in Statius and 
Claudian, none of those mixed embellishments of 
Tasso. Everything is just and natural. His sentiments 
show that he had a perfect insight into human nature, 
and that he knew everything which was the most 
proper to affect it. 

Mr. Dryden has in some places, which I may here- 
after take notice of, misrepresented Virgil's way of 
thinking as to this particular, in the translation he 
has given us of the Aeneid. I do not remember that 
Homer anywhere falls into the faults above-mentioned, 
which were indeed the false refinements of later ages. 
Milton, it must be confessed, has sometimes erred in 
this respect, as I shall show more at large in another 
paper ; though considering all the poets of the age in 
which he wrote were infected with this wrong way of 
thinking, he is rather to be admired that he did not 
give more into it, than that he did sometimes comply 
with the vicious taste which prevails so much among 
modern writers. 

But since several thoughts may be natural which 
are low and grovelling, an epic poet should not only 
avoid such sentiments as are unnatural or affected, 
but also such as are low and vulgar. Homer has 
opened a great field of raillery to men of more delicacy 
than greatness of genius by the homeliness of some of 
his sentiments. But, as I have before said, these are 
rather to be imputed to the simplicity of the age in 
which he lived, to which I may also add of that which 
he described, than to any imperfection in that divine 
poet. Zoilus, among the Ancients, and Monsieur Per- 
rault among the Moderns, pushed their ridicule very 
far upon him, on account of some such sentiments. 
There is no blemish to be observed in Virgil, under 
this head, and but very few in Milton. 

I shall give but one instance of this impropriety of 
sentiments in Homer, and at the same time compare 
it with an instance of the same nature, both in Virgil 
and Milton. Sentiments which raise laughter can very 


seldom be admitted with any decency into an heroic 
poem, whose business it is to excite passions of a much 
nobler nature. Homer, however, in his characters of 
Vulcan and Thersites, in his story of Mars and Venus, 
in his behaviour of Irus, and in other passages, has 
been observed to have lapsed into the burlesque 
character, and to have departed from that serious air 
which seems essential to the magnificence of an epic 
poem. I remember but one laugh in the whole Aeneid, 
which rises in the fifth book upon Monoetes, where 
he is represented as thrown overboard, and drying 
himself upon a rock. But this piece of mirth is so 
well timed that the severest critic can have nothing 
to say against it, for it is in the book of games and 
diversions where the reader's mind may be supposed 
to be sufficiently relaxed for such an entertainment. 
The only piece of pleasantry in Paradise Lost is where 
the evil spirits are described as rallying the angels 
upon the success of their new invented artillery. This 
passage I look upon to be the most exceptionable in 
the whole poem, as being nothing else but a string 
of puns, and those, too, very indifferent ones: 

Satan beheld their plight, 

And to his mates thus in derision call'd. 

O friends, why come not on these victors proud? 
Ere while they fierce were coming, and when we. 
To entertain them fair with open front. 
And breast (what could we more?), propounded terms 
Of composition; straight they chang'd their minds. 
Flew off, and into strange vagaries feU, 
As they would dance: yet for a dance they seem'd 
Somewhat extravagant and wild, perhaps 
For joy of offer'd peace : but I suppose 
If our proposals once again were heard, 
We should compel them to a quick result. 

To whom thus Belial in like gamesome mood. 
Leader, the terms we sent were terms of weight. 
Of hard contents, and full of force urg'd home. 
Such as we might perceive amus'd them all, 
And stumbled many: who receives them right. 


Had need, from head to foot, well understand; 
Not understood, this gift they have besides, 
They shew us when our foes walk not upright. 

Thus they among themselves in pleasant vein 
Stood scoffing 

iv. The Language 

Ne, quicimque Deus, quiamque adhibebitur heros, 

Regali conspectus in auro nuper et astro, 

Migret in obscuras humili sermone tabemas: 

Aut, dum vital humum, nubes et inania captet. — HoR. 

Having already treated of the fable, the characters, 
and sentiments in the Paradise Lost, we are in the last 
place to consider the language; and as the learned 
world is very much divided upon Milton as to this 
point, I hope they will excuse me if I appear particular 
in any of my opinions and incline to those who judge 
the most advantageously of the author. 

It is requisite that the language of an heroic poem 
should be both perspicuous and sublime. In propor- 
tion as either of these two qualities are wanting, the 
language is imperfect. Perspicuity is the first and 
most necessary qualification; insomuch, that a good- 
natured reader sometimes overlooks a little slip even 
in the grammar or syntax, where it is impossible for 
him to mistake the poet's sense. Of this kind is that 
passage in Milton, wherein he speaks of Satan: 

God and his Son except, 

Created thing nought valu'd he nor shunn'd. 

And that in which he describes Adam and Eve: 

Adam the goodliest man of men since born 
His sons, the fairest of her daughters Eve. 

It is plain that in the former of these passages, 
according to the natural syntax, the divine persons 
mentioned in the first line are represented as created 
beings; and that in the other, Adam and Eve /»rft 
confounded with their sons and daughters. Such little 


blemishes as these, when the thought is great and 
natural, we should, with Horace, impute to a pardon- 
able inadvertency, or to the weakness of human nature, 
which cannot attend to each minute particular, and 
give the last finishing to every circumstance in so long 
a work. The ancient critics, therefore, who were 
acted by a spirit of candour, rather than that of 
cavilling, invented certain figures of speech on purpose 
to palliate litUe errors of this nature in the writings 
of those authors who had so many greater beauties to 
atone for them. 

If clearness and perspicuity were only to be con- 
sulted the poet would have nothing else to do but to 
clothe his thoughts in the most plain and natural 
expressions. But, since it often happens that the most 
obvious phrases, and those which are used in ordinary 
conversation, become too familiar to the ear, and 
contract a kind of meanness by passing through the 
mouths of the vulgar, a poet should take particular care 
to guard himself against idiomatic ways of speaking. 
Ovid and Lucan have many poornesses of expression 
upon this account, as taking up with the first phrases 
that offered, without putdng themselves to the trouble 
of looking after such as would not only have been 
natural, but also elevated and subUme. Milton has but 
few failings in this kind, of which, however, you may 
meet with some instances, as in the following passages : 

Embryos and idiots, eremites and friars 

White, black, and grey, with all their trumpery, 

Here pilgrims roam — 

... A while discourse they hold, 

No fear lest dinner cool; when thus began 

Our author ... 

Who of all ages to succeed, but feeling 

The evil on him brought by me, will curse 

My head. 111 fare our ancestor impure. 

For this we may thank Adam . . . 

The great masters in composition know very well 
that many an elegant phrase becomes improper for a 


poet or an orator, when it has been debased by 
common use. For this reason the works of ancient 
authors, which are written in dead languages, have 
a great advantage over those which are written in 
languages that are now spoken. Were there any mean 
phrases or idioms in Virgil and Homer, they would 
not shock the ear of the most delicate modern reader 
so much as they would have done that of an old Greek 
or Roman, because we never hear them pronounced 
in our streets, or in ordinary conversation. 

It is not therefore sufficient that the language of 
an epic poem be perspicuous, unless it be also sublime. 
To this end it ought to deviate from the common forms 
and ordinary phrases of speech. The judgement of a 
poet very much discovers itself in shunning the com- 
mon roads ofexpression without falling into such ways 
of speech as may seem stiff and unnatural ; he must 
not swell into a false sublime by endeavouring to avoid 
the other extreme. Among the Greeks, Aeschylus, 
and sometimes Sophocles, were guilty of this fault; 
among the Latins, Claudian and Statius; and among 
our own countrymen, Shakespeare and Lee. In these 
authors the affectation of greatness often hurts the 
perspicuity of the style, as in many others the en- 
deavour after perspicuity prejudices its greatness. 

Aristotle has observed that the idiomatic style may 
be avoided, and the sublime formed, by the following 
methods. First, by the use of metaphors, like those in 

Milton : 

Imparadised in one another's arms. 
. . . And in his hand a reed 
Stood waving tipt with fire; . . . 
The grassy clods now calv'd. . . . 

In these and innumerable other instances the meta- 
phors are very bold but beautiful. I must, however, 
observe that the metaphors are not thick sown in 
Milton, which always savours too much of wit; that 
they never clash with one another, which, as Aristotle 
observes, turns a sentence into a kind of an enigma or 

240 K 


riddle; and that he seldom makes use of them where 
the proper and natural words will do as well. 

Another way of raising the language, and giving it 
a poetical turn, is to make use of the idioms of other 
tongues. Virgil is full of the Greek forms of speech, 
which the critics call Hellenisms, as Horace in his Odes 
abounds with them much more than Virgil. I need 
not mention the several dialects which Homer has 
made use of for this end. Milton, in conformity with 
the practice of the ancient poets, and with Aristotle's 
rule, has infused a great many Latinisms, as well as 
Graecisms, into the language of his poem, as towards 
the beginning of it: 

JVnr did they not perceive the evil plight 

In which they were, or the fierce pains not feel. 

Yet to their gen'ral's voice they soon obey'd. 

. . . Who shall tempt with wand'ring feet 

The dark unbottom'd infinite abyss. 

And through the palpable obscure find out his way. 

His uncouth way, or spread his airy flight 

Upborn with indefatigable wings 

Over the vast abrupt / . . . 

... So both ascend 

In the visions of God. . . . 

Under this head may be reckoned the placing the 
adjective after the substantive, the transposition of 
words, the turning the adjective into a substantive, 
with several other foreign modes of speech, which 
this poet has naturalized to give his verse the greater 
sound and throw it out of prose. 

The third method mentioned by Aristotle is what 
agrees with the genius of the Greek language more 
than with that of any other tongue, and is therefore 
more used by Homer than by any other poet. I mean 
the lengthening of a phrase by the addition of words, 
which may either be inserted or omitted, as also by 
the extending or contracting of particular words by 
the insertion or omission of certain syllables. Milton 
has put in practice this method of raising his language, 


as far as the nature of our tongue will permit, as in 
the passage above-mentioned. Eremite, for what is 
hermit in common discourse. If you observe the 
measure of his verse, he has with great judgement 
suppressed a syllable in several words, and shortened 
those of two syllables into one, by which method, 
besides the above-mentioned advantage, he has given 
a greater variety to his numbers. But this practice is 
more particularly remarkable in the names of persons 
and of countries, as Beelzebub, Hessebon, and in 
many other particulars, wherein he has either changed 
the name, or made use of that which is not the most 
commonly known, that he might the better deviate 
from the language of the vulgar. 

The same reason recommended to him several old 
words, which also makes his poem appear the more 
venerable, and gives it a greater air of antiquity. 

I must likewise take notice that there are in Milton 
several words of his own coining, as Cerberean, mis- 
created, hell-doomed, embryon atoms, and many 
others. If the reader is offended at this liberty in our 
English poet I would recommend him to a discourse 
in Plutarch, which shows us how frequently Homer 
has made use of the same liberty. 

Milton, by the above-mentioned helps, and by the 
choice of the noblest words and phrases which our 
tongue would afford him, has carried our language 
to a greater height than any of the English poets have 
ever done before or after him, and made the sublimity 
of his style equal to that of his sentiments. 

I have been the more particular in these observations 
of Milton's style, because it is that part of him in which 
he appears the most singular. The remarks I have 
here made upon the practice of other poets, with my 
observations out of Aristotle, will perhaps alleviate 
the prejudice which some have taken to his poem upon 
this account; though, after all, I must confess that I 
think his style, though admirable in general, is in 
some places too much stiffened and obscured by the 


frequent use of those methods which Aristotle has 
prescribed for the raising of it. 

This redundancy of those several ways of speech 
which Aristotle calls foreign language, and with which 
Milton has so very much enriched, and in some places 
darkened the language of his poem, was the more 
proper for his use, because his poem is written in 
blank verse; rhyme, without any other assistance, 
throws the language off from prose, and very often 
makes an indifferent phrase pass unregarded; but 
where the verse is not built upon rhymes, there pomp 
of sound and energy of expression are indispensably 
necessary to support the style, and keep it from falling 
into the flatness of prose. 

Those who have not a taste for this elevation of 
style and are apt to ridicule a poet when he departs 
from the common forms of expression, would do well 
to see how Aristotle has treated an ancient author, 
called Euclid, for his insipid mirth upon this occasion. 
Mr. Dryden used to call this sort of men his prose- 

I should, under this head of the language, consider 
Milton's numbers, in which he has made use of several 
elisions that are not customary among other English 
poets, as may be particularly observed in his cutting 
off the letter _>» when it precedes a vowel. This, and 
some other innovations in the measure of his verse, 
has varied his numbers in such a manner as makes 
them incapable of satiating the ear and cloying the 
reader, which the same uniform measure would cer- 
tainly have done, and which the perpetual returns 
of rhyme never fail to do in long narrative poems. 
I shall close these reflections upon the language of 
Paradise Lost, with observing that Milton has copied 
after Homer, rather than Virgil, in the length of his 
periods, the copiousness of his phrases, and the running 
of his verses into one another. 


[The Spectator, No. 419: 17 12.] 

Mentis gratissimus error. — HoR. 

There is a kind of writing wherein the poet quite 
loses sight of Nature, and entertains his reader's 
imagination with the characters and actions of such 
persons as have many of them no existence, but 
what he bestows on them. Such are fairies, witches, 
magicians, demons, and departed spirits. This Mr. 
Dryden calls the Fairy Way of Writing, which is, 
indeed, more difficult than any other that depends 
on the poet's fancy, because he has no pattern to 
follow in it, and must work altogether out of his 
own invention. 

There is a very odd turn of thought required for 
this sort of writing, and it is impossible for a poet to 
succeed in it, who has not a particular cast of fancy, 
and an imagination naturally fruitful and superstitious. 
Besides this, he ought to be very well versed in legends 
and fables, antiquated romances, and the traditions 
of nurses and old women, that he may fall in with our 
natural prejudices, and humour those notions which 
we have imbibed in our infancy. For, otherwise, he 
will be apt to make his fairies talk like people of his 
own species, and not like other sets of beings, who 
converse with different objects, and think in a different 
manner from that of mankind : 

Sylvis deducti caveant, me iudice, fauni 
Ne velut innati triviis, ac pent for enses, 
Aut nimivm teneris iuveruntur versibus . — HoR. 

I do not say with Mr. Bayes in the Rehearsal that 
spirits must not be confined to speak sense, but it is 
certain their sense ought to be a little discoloured, 
that it may seem particular and proper to the person 
and condition of the speaker. 


These descriptions raise a pleasing kind of horror 
in the mind of the reader, and amuse his imagination 
with the strangeness and novelty of the persons who 
are represented in them. They bring up into our 
memory the stories we have heard in our childhood, 
and favour those secret terrors and apprehensions to 
which the mind of man is naturally subject. We are 
pleased with surveying the different habits and be- 
haviours of foreign countries ; how much more must 
we be delighted and surprised when we are led, as it 
were, into a new creation, and see the persons and 
manners of another species? Men of cold fancies and 
philosophical dispositions object to this kind of poetry, 
that it has not probability enough to affect the 
imagination. But to this it may be answered, that we 
are sure, in general, there are many intellectual beings 
in the world besides ourselves, and several species of 
spirits, who are subject to different laws and economies 
from those of mankind ; when we see, therefore, any of 
these represented naturally, we cannot look upon the 
representation as altogether impossible; nay, many 
are prepossessed with such false opinions as dispose 
them to believe these particular delusions ; at least, we 
have all heard so many pleasing relations in favour 
of them, that we do not care for seeing through the 
falsehood, and willingly give ourselves up to so agree- 
able an imposture. 

The ancients have not much of this poetry among 
them, for, indeed, almost the whole substance of it 
owes its original to the darkness and superstition of 
later ages, when pious frauds were made use of to 
amuse mankind and frighten them into a sense of 
their duty. Our forefathers looked upon Nature with 
more reverence and horror, before the world was 
enlightened by learning and philosophy, and loved 
to astonish themselves with the apprehensions of 
witchcraft, prodigies, charms, and enchantments. 
There was not a village in England that had not a 
ghost in it, the churchyards were all haunted, every 


large common had a circle of fairies belonging to it, 
and there was scarce a shepherd to be met with who 
had not seen a spirit. 

Among all the poets of this kind our English are 
much the best, by what I have yet seen, whether it be 
that we abound with more stories of this nature or 
that the genius of our country is fitter for this sort of 
poetry. For the English are naturally fanciful, and very 
often disposed by that gloominess and melancholy 
of temper, which is so frequent in our nation, to many 
wild notions and visions, to which others are not so 

Among the English, Shakespeare has incomparably 
excelled all others. That noble extravagance of fancy, 
which he had in so great perfection, thoroughly 
qualified him to touch this weak superstitious part of 
his reader's imagination, and made him capable of 
succeeding where he had nothing to support him 
besides the strength of his own genius. There is some- 
thing so wild and yet so solemn in the speeches of his 
ghosts, fairies, witches, and the like imaginary persons, 
that we cannot forbear thinking them natural, though 
we have no rule by which to judge of them, and must 
confess, if there are such beings in the world, it looks 
highly probable they should talk and act as he has 
represented them. 

There is another sort of imaginary beings, that we 
sometimes meet with among the poets, when the 
author represents any passion, appetite, virtue, or 
vice, under a visible shape, and makes it a person or 
an actor in his poem. Of this nature are the descrip- 
tions of Hunger and Envy in Ovid, of Fame in Virgil, 
and of Sin and Death in Milton. We find a whole 
creation of the like shadowy persons in Spenser, who 
had an admirable talent in representations of this 
kind. I have discoursed of these emblematical persons 
in former papers, and shall therefore only mention 
them in this place. Thus we see how many ways 
Poetry addresses itself to the imagination, as it has 


not only the whole circle of nature for its province, 
but makes new worlds of its own, shows us persons 
who are not to be found in being, and represents even 
the faculties of the soul, with her several virtues and 
vices, in a sensible shape and character. 


[From a letter to Richard West, 1 742] 

I HAVE myself, upon your recommendation, been 
reading Joseph Andrews. The incidents are ill-laid 
and without invention; but the characters have a 
great deal of nature, which always pleases even in her 
lowest shapes. Parson Adams is perfectly well; so is 
Mrs. Slipslop, and the story of Wilson; and throughout 
he shows himself well read in stage-coaches, country 
squires, inns, and Inns of Court. His reflections upon 
high people and low people, and misses and masters, 
are very good. However the exaltedness of some 
minds (or rather as I shrewdly suspect their insipi- 
dity and want of feeling or observation) may make 
them insensible to these light things (I mean such as 
characterize and paint nature), yet surely they are as 
weighty and much more useful than your grave dis- 
courses upon the mind, the passions, and what not. 
Now as the paradisaical pleasures of the Mohamme- 
dans consist in playing upon the flute and lying with 
Houris, be mine to read eternal new romances of 
Marivaux and Crebillon. 

You are very good in giving yourself the trouble 
to read and find fault with my long harangues. Your 
freedom (as you call it) has so little need of apologies, 
that I should scarce excuse your treating me any 
otherwise ; which, whatever compliment it might be to 
my vanity, would be making a very ill one to my 
understanding. As to matter of style, I have this to 
say : the language of the age is never the language of 
poetry ; except among the French, whose verse, where 
the thought or image does not support it, diff"ers in 
nothing from prose. Our poetry, on the contrary, has 

266 GRAY 

a language peculiar to itself; to which almost every 
one, that has written, has added something by enrich- 
ing it with foreign idioms and derivatives : nay some- words of their own composition or invention. 
Shakespeare and Milton have been great creators this 
way ; and no one more licentious than Pope or Dryden, 
who perpetually borrow expressions from the former. 
Let me give you some instances from Dryden, whom 
everybody reckons a great master of our poetical 
tongue. Full of museful mopings — unlike the trim of 
love — a pleasant beverage — a roundelay of love — stood 
silent in his mood — with knots and knares deformed — 
his ireful mood — in proud array — his boon was granted 
— and disarray and shameful rout — wayward but wise 
— -furbished for the field — the foiled doddered oaks — 
disherited — smoulderi?ig flames — retchless of laws — crones 
old and ugly — the beldam at his side — the grandam-hag 
— villanise his Father's fame. But they are infinite; 
and our language not being a settled thing (like the 
French) has an undoubted right to words of an 
hundred years old, provided antiquity have not ren- 
dered them unintelligible. In truth, Shakespeare's 
language is one of his principal beauties ; and he has 
no less advantage over your Addisons and Rowes in 
this, than in those other great excellencies you mention. 
Every word in him is a picture. Pray put me the 
following lines into the tongue of our modern dra- 
matics : 

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, 

Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass: 

I, that am rudely stampt, and want love's majesty 

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph: 

I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion, 

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, 

Deform'd, unfinish'd, sent before my time 

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up — 

And what follows. To nae they appear untranslat- 
able; and if this be the case, our language is greatly 
degenerated. However, the affectation of imitating 


Shakespeare may doubtless be carried too far; and is 
no sort of excuse for sentiments ill-suited, or speeches 
ill-timed, which I believe is a little the case with me. 
I guess the most faulty expressions rnay be these — 
silken son of dalliance — drowsier pretensions — wrinkled 
beldams — arched the hearer's brow and rivekd his eyes 
in fearful ecstasy. These are easily altered or omitted; 
and indeed if the thoughts be wrong or superfluous, 
there is nothing easier than to leave out the whole. 
The first ten or twelve lines are, I believe, the best; 
and as for the rest, I was betrayed into a good deal 
of it by Tacitus; only what he has said in five words, 
I imagine I have said in fifty lines. Such is the mis- 
fortune of imitating the inimitable. Now, if you are 
of my opinion, una litura may do the business better 
than a dozen ; and you need not fear unravelling my 
web. I am a sort of spider; and have httle else to do 
but spin it over again, or creep to some other place 
and spin there. Alas ! for one who has nothing to do 
but amuse himself, I believe my amusements are as 
little amusing as most folks. . . . 


[From a letter to Horace Walpole, 1 748] 

I AM obliged to you for Mr. Dodsley's book, and 
having pretty well looked it over, will (as you desire) 
tell you my opinion of it. He might, methinks, have 
shared the Graces in his frontispiece, if he chose to be 
economical, and dressed his authors in a htde more 
decent raiment — not in whited-brown paper, and 
distorted characters, like an old ballad. I am ashamed 
to see myself; but the company keeps me in counte- 
nance: so to begin with Mr. Tickell. This is not only 
a state-poem (my ancient aversion) but a state-poem 
on the peace of Utrecht. If Mr. Pope had wrote a 
panegs'ric on it, one could hardly have read him 
with patience: but this is only a poor short-winded 

a68 GRAY 

imitator of Addison, who had himself not above three 
or four notes in poetry, sweet enough indeed, like 
those of a German flute, but such as soon tire and 
satiate the ear with their frequent return. Tickell has 
added to this a great poverty of sense, and a string 
of transitions that hardly become a school-boy. How- 
ever, I forgive him for the sake of his ballad, which 
I always thought the prettiest in the world. 

All there is of Mr. Green here, has been printed 
before; there is a profusion of wit everywhere; reading 
would have formed his judgement, and harmonized 
his verse, for even his wood-notes often break out into 
strains of real poetry and music. The School-Mistress 
is excellent in its kind and masterly; and (I am sorry 
to differ from you, but) London is to me one of those 
few imitations that have all the ease and all the spirit 
of an original. The same man's verses at the opening 
of Garrick's theatre are far from bad. Mr. Dyer (here 
you will despise me highly) has more of poetry in his 
imagination than almost any of our number; but 
rough and injudicious. I should range Mr. Bramston 
only a step or two above Dr. King, who is as low in 
my estimation as in yours. Dr. Evans is a furious 
madman; and Pre-existence is nonsense in all her 
altitudes. Mr. Lyttleton is a gentle elegiac person. 
Mr. Nugent sure did not write his own Ode. I like 
Mr. Whitehead's little poems, I mean the Ode on a 
Tent, the Verses to Garrick, and particularly those 
to Charles Townsend, better than anything I had 
seen before of him. I gladly pass over H. Browne and 
the rest, to come at you. You know I was of the 
publishing side, and thought your reasons against it 
none; for though, as Mr. Chute said extremely well, 
the still small voice of poetry was not made to be heard 
in a crowd; yet satire will be heard, for all the 
audience are by nature her friends; especially when 
she appears in the spirit of Dryden, with his strength, 
and often with his versification, such as you have 
caught in those lines on the royal unction, on the 


papal dominion, and convents of both sexes ; on Henry 
VIII and Charles II, for these are to me the shining 
parts of your Epistle. There are many lines I could 
wish corrected, and some blotted out, but beauties 
enough to atone for a thousand worse faults than these. 
The opinion of such as can at all judge, who saw it 
before in Dr. Middleton's hands, concurs nearly with 
mine. As to what any one says, since it came out; 
our people (you must know) are slow of judgement; 
they wait till some bold body saves them the trouble, 
and then follow his opinion; or stay till they hear 
what is said in town, that is at some Bishop's table, or 
some coffee-house about the Temple. When they are 
determined I will tell you faithfully their verdict. 

I like Mr. Aston Hervey's Fable; and an Ode 
(the last of all) by Mr. Mason, a new acquaintance 
of mine, whose Musaeus too seems to carry with it the 
promise at least of something good to come. I was 
glad to see you distinguished who poor West was, 
before his charming Ode, and called it anything 
rather than a Pindaric. The town is an owl if it 
don't like Lady Mary, and I am surprised at it: we 
here are owls enough to think her eclogues very bad; 
but that I did not wonder at. Our present taste is 
Sir T. Fitz-Osborne's Letters. . , 






EAR SIR, — We confess the follies of youth with- 
'out a blush; not so those of age. However, keep 
me a little in countenance, by considering, that age 
wants amusements more, though it can justify them 
less, than the preceding periods of life. How you may 
relish the pastime here sent you, I know not. It is 
miscellaneous in its nature, somewhat licentious in its 
conduct; and, perhaps, not over important in its end. 
However, I have endeavoured to make some amends, 
by digressing into subjects more important, and more 
suitable to my season of life. A serious thought, 
standing single among many of a lighter nature, wdll 
sometimes strike the careless wanderer after amuse- 
ment only, with useful awe: as monumental marbles 
scattered in a wide pleasure garden (and such there 
are) will call to recollection those who would never 
have sought it in a churchyard walk of mournful yews. 

To one such monument I may conduct you, in 
which is a hidden lustre, like the sepulchral lamps 
of old ; but not like those will this be extinguished, 
but shine the brighter for being produced, after so 
long concealment, into open day. 

You remember that your worthy patron, and our 
common friend, put some questions on the serious 
drama, at the same time when he desired our senti- 
ments on original and on moral composition. Though 
I despair of breaking through the frozen obstructions 
of age, and care's incumbent cloud, into that flow of 


thought, and brightness of expression, which subjects 
so polite require; yet will I hazard some conjectures 
on them. 

I begin with original composition; and the more 
wiUingly, as it seems an original subject to me, who 
have seen nothing hitherto written on it: But first, a 
few thoughts on composition in general. Some are of 
opinion that its growth, at present, is too luxuriant; 
and that the press is overcharged. Overcharged, I 
think, it could never be, if none were admitted, but 
such as brought their imprimatur from sound under- 
standing, and the public good. Wit indeed, however 
brilliant, should not be permitted to gaze self-enam- 
oured on its useless charms, in that fountain of fame 
(if so I may call the press), if beauty is all that it has 
to boast; but, like the first Brutus, it should sacrifice 
its most darling offspring to the sacred interests of 
virtue, and real service of mankind. 

This restriction allowed, the more composition the 
better. To men of letters, and leisure, it is not only 
a noble amusement, but a sweet refuge; it improves 
their parts, and promotes their peace: it opens a 
back-door out of the bustle of this busy and idle world 
into a delicious garden of moral and intellectual fruits 
and flowers ; the key of which is denied to the rest of 
mankind. When stung with idle anxieties, or teased 
with fruitless impertinence, or yawning over insipid 
diversions, then we perceive the blessing of a lettered 
recess. With what a gust do we retire to our dis- 
interested and immortal friends in our closet, and find 
our minds, when applied to some favourite theme, as 
naturally, and as easily quieted and refreshed, as a 
peevish child (and peevish children are we all till we 
fall asleep) when laid to the breast? Our happiness 
no longer lives on charity; nor bids fair for a fall, by 
leaning on that most precarious and thorny pillow, 
another's pleasure, for our repose. How independent 
of the world is he who can daily find new acquain- 
tance, that at once entertain, and improve him, in the 

272 YOUNG 

little world, the minute but fruitful creation, of his 
own mind? 

These advantages composition affords us, whether 
we write ourselves, or in more humble amusement 
peruse the works of others. While we bustle through 
the thronged walks of public life, it gives us a respite, 
at least, from care; a pleasing pause of refreshing 
recollection. If the country is our choice, or fate, there 
it rescues us from sloth and sensuality, which, like ob- 
scene vermin, are apt gradually to creep unperceived 
into the delightful bowers of our retirement, and to 
poison all its sweets. Conscious guilt robs the rose of 
its scent, the lily of its lustre ; and makes an Eden a 
deflowered and dismal scene. 

Moreover, if we consider life's endless evils, what 
can be more prudent than to provide for consolation 
under them? A consolation under them the wisest of 
men have found in the pleasures of the pen. Witness, 
among many more, Thucydides, Xenophon, TuUy, 
Ovid, Seneca, Pliny the Younger, who says. In uxoris 
infirmitate, et amicorum periculo, aut morte turbatus, ad 
studia, unicum doloris levamentum, confugio. And why not 
add to these their modern equals, Chaucer, Raleigh, 
Bacon, Milton, Clarendon, under the same shield, un- 
wound ed by misfortune, and nobly smiling in distress? 

Composition was a cordial to these under the frowns 
of fortune; but evils there are which her smiles cannot 
prevent or cure. Among these are the languors of old 
age. If those are held honourable, who in a hand 
benumbed by time have grasped the just sword in 
defence of their country ; shall they be less esteemed, 
whose unsteady pen vibrates to the last in the cause 
of religion, of virtue, of learning? Both these are 
happy in this, that by fixing their attention on ob- 
jects most important, they escape numberless little 
anxieties, and that taedium vitae which often hangs so 
heavy on its evening hours. May not this insinuate 
some apology for my spilling ink, and spoiling paper, 
so late in life? 


But there are who write with vigour, and success, 
to the world's dehght, and their own renown. These 
are the glorious fruits where genius prevails. The 
mind of a man of genius is a fertile and pleasant field, 
pleasant as Elysium, and fertile as Tempe; it enjoys 
a perpetual spring. Of that spring, originals are the 
fairest flowers : imitations are of quicker growth, but 
fainter bloom. Imitations are of two kinds: one of 
nature, one of authors. The first we call originals, 
and confine the term imitation to the second. I shall 
not enter into the curious inquiry of what is, or is not, 
strictly speaking, original, content with what all must 
allow, that some compositions are more so than others ; 
and the more they are so, I say, the better. Originals 
are, and ought to be, great favourites, for they are 
great benefactors ; they extend the republic of letters, 
and add a new province to its dominion. Imitators 
only give us a sort of duplicates of what we had, 
possibly much better, before; increasing the mere 
drug of books, while all that makes them valuable, 
knowledge and genius, are at a stand. The pen of an 
original writer, like Armida's wand, out of a barren 
waste calls a blooming spring. Out of that blooming 
spring an imitator is a transplanter of laurels, which 
sometimes die on removal, always languish in a foreign 

But suppose an imitator to be most excellent (and 
such there are), yet still he but nobly builds on 
another's foundation; his debt is, at least, equal to 
his glory; which, therefore, on the balance, cannot be 
very great. On the contrary, an original, though but 
indifferent (its originality being set aside), yet has 
something to boast; it is something to say with him 
in Horace, 

Mco sum Pauper in acre; 

and to share ambition with no less than Caesar, who 
declared he had rather be the first in a village than 
the second at Rome. 

274 YOUNG 

Still farther: an imitator shares his crown, if he 
has one, with the chosen object of his imitation ; an 
original enjoys an undivided applause. An original 
may be said to be of a vegetable nature; it rises 
spontaneously from the vital root of genius ; it grows, 
it is not made. Imitations are often a sort of manufac- 
ture wrought up by those mechanics, art and labour, 
out of pre-existent materials not their own. 

Again: we read imitation with somewhat of his 
languor, who listens to a twice-told tale. Our spirits 
rouse at an original ; that is a perfect stranger, and all 
throng to learn what news from a foreign land: and 
though it comes, like an Indian prince, adorned with 
feathers only, having little of weight; yet of our 
attention it will rob the more solid, if not equally new. 
Thus every telescope is lifted at a new-discovered star; 
it makes a hundred astronomers in a moment, and 
denies equal notice to the sun. But if an original, 
by being as excellent as new, adds admiration to 
surprise, then are we at the writer's mercy; on the 
strong wing of his imagination, we are snatched from 
Britain to Italy, from climate to climate, from pleasure 
to pleasure; we have no home, no thought, of our 
own; till the magician drops his pen. And then fall- 
ing down into ourselves, we awake to flat realities, 
lamenting the change, like the beggar who dreamt 
himself a prince. 

It is with thoughts as it is with words; and with 
both as with men ; they may grow old and die. Words 
tarnished, by passing through the mouths of the 
vulgar, are laid aside as inelegant and obsolete. So 
thoughts, when become too common, should lose their 
currency; and we should send new metal to the mint, 
that is, new meaning to the press. The division of 
tongues at Babel did not more effectually debar men 
from making themselves a name (as the Scripture 
speaks), than the too great concurrence, or union of 
tongues will do for ever. We may as well grow good 
by another's virtue, or fat by another's food, as famous 


by another's thought. The world will pay its debt of 
praise but once; and instead of applauding, explode 
a second demand, as a cheat. 

If it is said, that most of the Latin classics, and 
all the Greek, except, perhaps. Homer, Pindar, and 
Anacreon, are in the number of imitators, yet receive 
our highest applause; our answer is. That they, 
though not real, are accidental originals; the works 
they imitated, few excepted, are lost; they, on their 
father's decease, enter as lawful heirs, on their estates 
in fame. The fathers of our copyists are still in posses- 
sion ; and secured in it, in spite of Goths, and flames, 
by the perpetuating power of the Press. Very late 
must a modern imitator's fame arrive, if it waits for 
their decease. 

An original enters early on reputation : Fame, fond 
of new glories, sounds her trumpet in triumph at its 
birth; and yet how few are awakened by it into the 
noble ambition of like attempts ! Ambition is some- 
times no vice in life; it is always a virtue in composi- 
tion. High in the towering Alps is the fountain of the 
Po; high in fame and in antiquity is the fountain 
of an imitator's undertaking ; but the river, and the 
imitation, humbly creep along the vale. So few are 
our originals, that, if all other books were to be burnt, 
the lettered world would resemble some metropolis 
in flames, where a few incombustible buildings, a 
fortress, temple, or tower, lift their heads, in melan- 
choly grandeur, amid the mighty ruin. Compared 
with this conflagration, old Omar lighted up but a 
small bonfire, when he heated the baths of the bar- 
barians, for eight months together, with the famed 
Alexandrian library's inestimable spoils, that no pro- 
fane book might obstruct the triumphant progress 
of his holy Alcoran round the globe. 

But why are originals so few? not because the 
writer's harvest is over, the great reapers of antiquity 
having left nothing to be gleaned after them ; nor because 
the human mind's teeming time is past, or because it 

276 YOUNG 

is incapable of putting forth unprecedented births; 
but because illustrious examples engross, prejudice, 
and intimidate. They engross our attention, and so 
prevent a due inspection of ourselves; they prejudice 
our judgement in favour of their abilities, and so 
lessen the sense of our own; and they intimidate us 
with the splendour of their renown, and thus under 
diffidence bury our strength. Nature's impossibilities, 
and those of diffidence lie wide asunder. 

Let it not be suspected, that I would weakly in- 
sinuate anything in favour of the moderns, as com- 
pared with ancient authors ; no, I am lamenting their 
great inferiority. But I think it is no necessary in- 
feriority; that it is not from divine destination, but 
from some cause far beneath the moon: I think that 
human souls, through all periods, are equal; that due 
care and exertion would set us nearer our immortal 
predecessors than we are at present; and he who 
questions and confutes this, will show abilities not 
a little tending toward a proof of that equality which 
he denies. 

After all, the first ancients had no merit in be- 
ing originals: they could not be imitators. Modern 
writers have a choice to make; and therefore have 
a merit in their power. They may soar in the regions 
of liberty, or move in the soft fetters of easy imitation; 
and imitation has as many plausible reasons to urge, 
as pleasure had to offer to Hercules. Hercules made 
the choice of an hero, and so became immortal. 

Yet let not assertors of classic excellence imagine, 
that I deny the tribute it so well deserves. He that 
admires not ancient authors, betrays a secret he would 
conceal, and tells the world that he does not under- 
stand them. Let us be as far from neglecting, as 
from copying, their admirable compositions: sacred 
be their rights, and inviolable their fame. Let our 
understanding feed on theirs; they afford the noblest 
nourishment; but let them nourish, not annihilate, 
our own. When we read, let our imagination kindle 


at their charms; when we write, let our judgement 
shut them out of our thoughts; treat even Homer 
himself as his royal admirer was treated by the cynic; 
bid him stand aside, nor shade our composition from 
the beams of our own genius ; for nothing original can 
rise, nothing immortal can ripen, in any other sun. 

Must we then, you say, not imitate ancient authors? 
Imitate them by all means; but imitate aright. He 
that imitates the divine Iliad does not imitate Homer; 
but he who takes the same method, which Homer 
took, for arriving at a capacity of accomplishing a 
work so great. Tread in his steps to the sole fountain 
of immortality; drink where he drank, at the true 
Helicon, that is, at the breast of Nature: imitate; but 
imitate not the composition, but the man. For may 
not this paradox pass into a maxim? viz. 'The less we 
copy the renowned ancients, we shall resemble them 
the more.' 

But possibly you may reply, that you must either 
imitate Homer, or depart from Nature. Not so: for 
suppose you was to change place, in time, wdth 
Homer; then, if you write naturally, you might as 
well charge Homer with an imitation of you. Can 
you be said to imitate Homer for writing so, as you 
would have written, if Homer had never been? As 
far as a regard to Nature, and sound sense, will permit 
a departure from your great predecessors; so far, 
ambitiously, depart from them; the farther from them 
in similitude, the nearer are you to them in excellence ; 
you rise by it into an original ; become a noble colla- 
teral, not an humble descendant from them. Let us 
build our compositions with the spirit, and in the taste, 
of the ancients; but not with their materials: thus 
will they resemble the structures of Pericles at Athens, 
which Plutarch commends for having had an air of 
antiquity as soon as they were built. All eminence, 
and distinction, lies out of the beaten road; excur- 
sion and deviation are necessary to find it; and the 
more remote your path from the highway, the more 

278 YOUNG 

reputable; if, like poor Gulliver (of whom anon), you 
fall not into a ditch, in your way to glory. 

What glory to come near, what glory to reach, 
what glory (presumptuous thought!) to surpass our 
predecessors! And is that then in Nature absolutely 
impossible? Or is it not, rather, contrary to Nature 
to fail in it? Nature herself sets the ladder, all wanting 
is our ambition to climb. For by the bounty of 
Nature we are as strong as our predecessors; and by 
the favour of time (which is but another round in 
Nature's scale) we stand on higher ground. As to the 
first, were they more than men? Or are we less? 
Are not our minds cast in the same mould with those 
before the flood? The flood aff"ected matter; mind 
escaped. As to the second; though we are moderns, 
the world is an ancient ; more ancient far, than when 
they, whom we most admire, filled it with their fame. 
Have we not their beauties, as stars, to guide; their 
defects, as rocks, to be shunned ; the judgement of 
ages on both, as a chart to conduct, and a sure helm 
to steer us in our passage to greater perfection than 
theirs? And shall we be stopped in our rival preten- 
sions to fame by this just reproof? 

Stat contra, dicitque tibi tua pagina, fur es. 


It is by a sort of noble contagion, from a general 
familiarity with their writings, and not by any parti- 
cular sordid theft, that we can be the better for those 
who went before us. Hope we, from plagiarism, any 
dominion in literature ; as that of Rome arose from 
a nest of thieves? 

Rome was a powerful ally to many states ; ancient 
authors are our powerful aUies; but we must take 
heed, that they do not succour till they enslave, after 
the manner of Rome. Too formidable an idea of their 
superiority, like a spectre, would fright us out of a 
proper use of our wits ; and dwarf our understanding, 
by making a giant of theirs. Too great awe for them 


lays genius under restraint, and denies it that free 
scope, that full elbow-room, which is requisite for 
striking its most masterly strokes. Genius is a master- 
workman, learning is but an instrument; and an 
instrument, though most valuable, yet not always 
indispensable. Heaven will not admit of a partner in 
the accomplishment of some favourite spirits; but 
rejecting all human means, assumes the whole glory 
to itself. Have not some, though not famed for erudi- 
tion, so written, as almost to persuade us, that they 
shone brighter, and soared higher, for escaping the 
boasted aid of that proud ally? 

Nor is it strange ; for what, for the most part, mean 
we by genius, but the power of accomplishing great 
things without the means generally reputed necessary 
to that end? A genius differs from a good under- 
standing, as a magician from a good architect: that 
raises his structure by means invisible; this by the 
skilful use of common tools. Hence genius has ever 
been supposed to partake of something divine. Nemo 
unquam vir magnus fuit, sine aliquo qffiatu divino. 

Learning, destitute of this superior aid, is fond and 
proud of what has cost it much pains; is a great 
lover of rules, and boaster of famed examples: as 
beauties less perfect, who owe half their charms to 
cautious art, learning inveighs against natural un- 
studied graces, and small harmless inaccuracies, and 
sets rigid bounds to that liberty, to which genius often 
owes its supreme glory ; but the no-genius its frequent 
ruin. For unprescribed beauties, and unexampled 
excellence, which are characteristics of genius, lie 
without the pale of learning's authorities, and laws ; 
which pale, genius must leap to come at them: but 
by that leap, if genius is wanting, we break our necks; 
we lose that little credit which possibly we might have 
enjoyed before. For rules, like crutches, are a needful 
aid to the lame, though an impediment to the strong. 
A Homer casts them away; and, like his Achilles, 
Jura negat sibi nata, nihil non arrogat. 

i28o YOUNG 

by native force of mind. There is something in poetry 
beyond prose-reason; there are mysteries in it not to 
be explained, but admired ; which render mere prose- 
men infidels to their divinity. And here pardon a 
second paradox; viz. 'Genius often then deserves most 
to be praised, when it is most sure to be condemned ; 
that is, when its excellence, from mounting high, to 
weak eyes is quite out of sight.' 

If I might speak further of learning, and genius, 
I would compare genius to virtue, and learning to 
riches. As riches are most wanted where there is 
least virtue; so learning where there is least genius. 
As virtue without much riches can give happiness, so 
genius without much learning can give renown. As 
it is said in Terence, Pecuniam negligere interdum maxi- 
mum est lucrum ; so to neglect of learning, genius some- 
times owes its greater glory. Genius, therefore, leaves 
but the second place, among men of letters, to the 
learned. It is their merit, and ambition, to fling light 
on the works of genius, and point out its charms. We 
most justly reverence their informing radius for that 
favour; but we must much more admire the radiant 
stars pointed out by them. 

A star of the first magnitude among the moderns 
was Shakespeare; among the ancients, Pindar, who 
(as Vossius tells us) boasted of his no-learning, calling 
himself the eagle, for his flight above it. And such 
genii as these may, indeed, have much reUance on 
their own native powers. For genius may be com- 
pared to the natural strength of the body; learning 
to the super-induced accoutrements of arms: if the 
first is equal to the proposed exploit, the latter rather 
encumbers than assists ; rather retards than promotes 
the victory. Sacer nobis inest Deus, says Seneca. With 
regard to the moral world, conscience, with regard to 
the intellectual, genius, is that god within. Genius can 
set us right in composition, without the rules of the 
learned ; as conscience sets us right in life, without the 
laws of the land : this, singly, can make us good, as 


men : that, singly, as writers, can sometimes make us 

I say, sometimes, because there is a genius, which 
stands in need of learning to make it shine. Of genius 
there are two species, an earlier and a later; or call 
them infantine and adult. An adult genius comes out 
of Nature's hand, as Pallas out of Jove's head, at 
full growth and mature: Shakespeare's genius was 
of this kind ; on the contrary. Swift stumbled at the 
threshold, and set out for distinction on feeble knees : 
his was an infantine genius; a genius, which, like 
other infants, must be nursed, and educated, or it will 
come to naught: learning is its nurse and tutor; but 
this nurse may overlay with an indigested load, which 
smoothers common sense ; and this tutor may mislead, 
with pedantic prejudice, which vitiates the best under- 
standing : as too great admirers of the fathers of the 
Church have sometimes set up their authority against 
the true sense of Scripture; so too great admirers of the 
classical fathers have sometimes set up their authority, 
or example, against reason. 

jV>i'« minor, neu sit quinto productior actu 

So says Horace, so says ancient example. But reason 
has not subscribed. I know but one book that can 
justify our implicit acquiescence in it: and (by the 
way) on that book a noble disdain of undue deference 
to prior opinion has lately cast, and is still casting, 
a new and inestimable light. 

But, superstition for our predecessors set aside, the 
classics are for ever our rightful and revered masters 
in composition; and our understandings bow before 
them: but when? When a master is wanted; which, 
sometimes, as I have shown, is not the case. Some 
are pupils of nature only, nor go farther to school : 
from such we reap often a double advantage; they 
not only rival the reputation of the great ancient 
authors, but also reduce the number of mean ones 

282 YOUNG 

among the moderns. For when they enter on subjects 
which have been in former hands, such is their 
superiority, that, Hke a tenth wave, they overwhelm 
and bury in oblivion all that went before : and thus 
not only enrich and adorn, but remove a load, and 
lessen the labour, of the lettered world. 

'But, you say, since originals can arise from genius 
only, and since genius is so very rare, it is scarce 
worth while to labour a point so much, from which 
we can reasonably expect so little.' To show that 
genius is not so very rare as you imagine, I shall point 
out strong instances of it, in a far distant quarter 
from that mentioned above. The minds of the school- 
men were almost as much cloistered as their bodies; 
they had but little learning, and few books ; yet may 
the most learned be struck with some astonishment 
at their so singular natural sagacity, and most ex- 
quisite edge of thought. Wbo would expect to find 
Pindar and Scotus, Shakespeare and Aquinas, of the 
same party? Both equally show an original, un- 
indebted energy; the vigor igneus, and caelestis origo, 
burns in both ; and leaves us in doubt whether genius 
is more evident in the sublime flights and beauteous 
flowers of poetry, or in the profound penetrations, 
and marvellously keen and minute distinctions, called 
the thorns of the schools. There might have been 
more able consuls called from the plough than ever 
arrived at that honour : many a genius probably there 
has been which could neither write nor read. So 
that genius, that supreme lustre of literature, is less 
rare than you conceive. 

By the praise of genius we detract not from learn- 
ing; we detract not from the value of gold, by saying 
that diamond has greater still. He who disregards 
learning shows that he wants its aid; and he that 
overvalues it shows that its aid has done him harm. 
Overvalued indeed it cannot be, if genius, as to com- 
position, is valued more. Learning we thank, genius 
we revere; that gives us pleasure, this gives us rapture; 


that informs, this inspires ; and is itself inspired ; for 
genius is from heaven, learning from man: this sets 
us above the low and illiterate; that, above the 
learned and polite. Learning is borrowed knowledge ; 
genius is knowledge innate, and quite our own. 
Therefore, as Bacon observes, it may take a nobler 
name, and be called wisdom; in which sense of 
wisdom some are born v^e. 

But here a caution is necessary against the most 
fatal of errors in those automaths, those self-taught 
philosophers of our age, who set up genius, and often 
mere fancied genius, not only above human learning, 
but divine truth. I have called genius wisdom; but 
let it be remembered, that in the most renowned ages 
of the most refined heathen wisdom (and theirs is not 
Christian) 'the world by wisdom knew not God, and 
it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save 
those that believed.' In the fairyland of fancy, genius 
may wander wild ; there it has a creative power, and 
may reign arbitrarily over its own empire of chimeras. 
The wide field of Nature also Ues open before it, where 
it may range unconfined, make what discoveries it can, 
and sport ^vith its infinite objects uncontrolled, as far 
as visible Nature extends, painting them as wantonly 
as it will. But what painter of the most unbounded 
and exalted genius can give us the true portrait of 
a seraph? He can give us only what, by his own or 
others' eyes, has been seen; though that indeed infi- 
nitely compounded, raised, burlesqued, dishonoured, 
or adorned : in like manner, who can give us divine 
truth unrevealed? Much less should any presume 
to set aside divine truth when revealed, as incon- 
gruous to their own sagacities — Is this too serious 
for my subject? I shall be more so before I close. 

Having put in a caveat against the most fatal of 
errors, from the too great indulgence of genius, return 
we now to that too great suppression of it, which is 
detrimental to composition ; and endeavour to rescue 
the writer, as well as the man. I have said that some 

284 YOUNG 

are born wise; but they, like those that are born rich, 
by neglecting the cultivation and produce of their 
own possessions, and by running in debt, may be 
beggared at last; and lose their reputations, as younger 
brothers estates, not by being born with less abilities 
than the rich heir, but at too late an hour. 

Many a great man has been lost to himself, and 
the public, purely because great ones were born before 
him, Hermias, in his collections on Homer's blind- 
ness, says, that Homer, requesting the gods to grant 
him a sight of Achilles, that hero rose, but in armour 
so bright, that it struck Homer blind with the blaze. 
Let not the blaze of even Homer's muse darken us 
to the discernment of our own powers; which may 
possibly set us above the rank of imitators; who, 
though most excellent and even immortal (as some 
of them are) yet are still but Dii minorum gentium, nor 
can expect the largest share of incense, the greatest 
profusion of praise, on their secondary altars. 

But further still: a spirit of imitation hath many 
ill effects; I shall confine myself to three. First, it 
deprives the liberal and politer arts of an advantage 
which the mechanic enjoy: in these, men are ever 
endeavouring to go beyond their predecessors ; in the 
former, to follow them. And since copies surpass not 
their originals, as streams rise not higher than their 
spring, rarely so high; hence, while arts mechanic 
are in perpetual progress and increase, the liberal are 
in retrogradation and decay. These resemble pyra- 
mids, are broad at bottom, but lessen exceedingly as 
they rise; those resemble rivers which, from a small 
fountain-head, are spreading ever wider and wider 
as they run. Hence it is evident that different portions 
of understanding are not (as some imagine) allotted 
to different periods of time; for we see, in the same 
period, understanding rising in one set of artists and 
declining in another. Therefore Nature stands ab- 
solved and our inferiority in composition must be 
charged on ourselves. 


Nay, so far are we from complying with a necessity, 
which Nature lays us under, that, secondly, by a 
spirit of imitation we counteract Nature, and thwart 
her design. She brings us into the world all originals: 
no two faces, no two minds, are just alike; but all bear 
Nature's evident mark of separation on them. Born 
originals, how comes it to pass that we die copies? 
That meddling ape Imitation, as soon as we come to 
years of indiscretion (so let me speak), snatches the 
pen and blots out Nature's mark of separation, cancels 
her kind intention, destroys all mental individuality; 
the lettered world no longer consists of singulars, it is 
a medley, a mass; and a hundred books, at bottom, 
are but one. Why are monkeys such masters of 
mimicry? Why receive they such a talent at imita- 
tion? Is it not as the Spartan slaves received a licence 
for ebriety; that their betters might be ashamed of it? 
The third fault to be found with a spirit of imitation 
is, that with great incongruity it makes us poor and 
proud: makes us think little, and write much; gives 
us huge folios, which are little better than more re- 
putable cushions to promote our repose. Have not 
some sevenfold volumes put us in mind of Ovid's 
sevenfold channels of the Nile at the conflagration? 

Ostia septem 
Pulverulenta vacant septem sinejlumine valles. 

Such leaden labours are like Lycurgus's iron money, 
which was so much less in value than in bulk, that it 
required barns for strong-boxes, and a yoke of oxen 
to draw five hundred pounds. 

But notwithstanding these disadvantages of imita- 
tion, imitation must be the lot (and often an honour- 
able lot it is) of most writers. If there is a famine of 
invention in the land, like Joseph's brethren we must 
travel far for food ; we must visit the remote and rich 
ancients; but an inventive genius may safely stay at 
home; that, like the widow's cruse, is divinely re- 
plenished from within; and affords us a miraculous 

286 YOUNG 

delight. WTiether our own genius be such or not, we 
diUgently should inquire; that we may not go a- 
begging with gold in our purse. For there is a mine 
in man, which must be deeply dug ere we can con- 
jecture its contents. Another often sees that in us, 
which we see not ourselves; and may there not be 
that in us which is unseen by both? That there may, 
chance often discovers, either by a luckily chosen 
theme, or a mighty premium, or an absolute necessity 
of exertion, or a noble stroke of emulation from 
another's glory; as that on Thucydides from hearing 
Herodotus repeat part of his history at the Olympic 
games: had there been no Herodotus, there might 
have been no Thucydides, and the world's admiration 
might have begun at Livy for excellence in that pro- 
vince of the pen. Demosthenes had the same stimula- 
tion on hearing Callistratus ; or Tully might have 
been the first of consummate renown at the bar. 

Quite clear of the dispute concerning ancient and 
modern learning, we speak not of performance, but 
powers. The modern powers are equal to those before 
them; modern performance in general is deplorably 
short. How great are the names just mentioned! 
Yet who will dare affirm, that as great may not rise 
up in some future, or even in the present age? Reasons 
there are why talents may not appear, none why they 
may not exist as much in one period as another. An 
evocation of vegetable fruits depends on rain, air, and 
sun ; an evocation of the fruits of genius no less depends 
on externals. What a marvellous crop bore it in 
Greece and Rome ! And what a marvellous sunshine 
did it there enjoy! What encouragement from the 
nature of their governments, and the spirit of their 
people ! Virgil and Horace owed their divine talents 
to Heaven; their immortal works to men; thank 
Maecenas and Augustus for them. Had it not been 
for these, the genius of those poets had lain buried in 
their ashes. Athens expended on her theatre, paint- 
ing, sculpture, and architecture, a tax levied for the 


support of a war. Caesar dropped his papers when 
Tully spoke; and Philip trembled at the voice of 
Demosthenes: and has there arisen but one Tully, 
one Demosthenes, in so long a course of years? The 
powerful eloquence of them both in one stream, 
should never bear me down into the melancholy per- 
suasion, that several have not been born, though they 
have not emerged. The sun as much exists in a cloudy 
day, as in a clear; it is outward, accidental circum- 
stances that with regard to genius either in nation 
or age 

Collectas fugat nubes, solemque reducit, 


As great, perhaps greater than those mentioned 
(presumptuous as it may sound) may possibly arise; 
for who hath fathomed the mind of man? Its bounds 
are as unknown as those of the creation; since the 
birth of which, perhaps, not one has so far exerted, 
as not to leave his possibilities beyond his attainments, 
his powers beyond his exploits. Forming our judge- 
ments altogether by what has been done, without 
knowing, or at all inquiring, what possibly might have 
been done, we naturally enough fall into too mean an 
opinion of the human mind. If a sketch of the divine 
Iliad before Homer wrote, had been given to mankind, 
by some superior being, or otherwise, its execution 
would, probably, have appeared beyond the power of 
man. Now, to surpass it, we think impossible. As the 
first of these opinions would evidently have been a 
mistake, why may not the second be so too? Both are 
founded on the same bottom ; on our ignorance of the 
possible dimensions of the mind of man. 

Nor are we only ignorant of the dimensions of the 
human mind in general, but even of our own. That 
a man may be scarce less ignorant of his own powers, 
than an oyster of its pearl, or a rock of its diamond; 
that he may possess dormant, unsuspected abilities, 
till awakened by loud calls, or stung up by striking 
emergencies, is evident from the sudden eruption of 

1288 YOUNG 

some men, out of perfect obscurity, into public ad- 
miration, on the strong impulse of some animating 
occasion; not more to the world's great surprise than 
their own. Few authors of distinction but have ex- 
perienced something of this nature, at the first beam- 
ings of their yet unsuspected genius on their hitherto 
dark composition : the writer starts at it, as at a lucid 
meteor in the night; is much surprised; can scarce 
believe it true. During his happy confusion it may 
be said to him, as to Eve at the lake, 

What there thou seest, fair creature, is thyself. 


Genius, in this view, is like a dear friend in our com- 
pany under disguise; who, while we are lamenting 
his absence, drops his mask, striking us, at once, with 
equal surprise and joy. This sensation, which I speak of 
in a writer, might favour, and so promote, the fable 
of poetic inspiration : a poet of a strong imagination, 
and stronger vanity, on feehng it, might naturally 
enough realize the world's mere compliment, and 
think himself truly inspired. Which is not improbable; 
for enthusiasts of all kinds do no less. 

Since it is plain that men may be strangers to their 
own abihties ; and by thinking meanly of them with- 
out just cause, may possibly lose a name, perhaps 
a name immortal; I would find some means to pre- 
vent these evils. Whatever promotes virtue, promotes 
something more, and carries its good influence beyond 
the moral man: to prevent these evils, I borrow two 
golden rules from ethics, which are no less golden in 
composition than in life. ist. Know thyself; 2ndly, 
Reverence thyself: I design to repay ethics in a future 
letter, by two rules from rhetoric for its service. 

I St. Know thyself. Of ourselves it may be said, as 
Martial says of a bad neighbour. 

Ml tarn pTope, proculque nobis. 

Therefore dive deep into thy bosom; learn the depth. 


extent, bias, and full fort of thy mind ; contract full 
intimacy with the stranger within thee; excite and 
cherish every spark of intellectual light and heat, 
however smothered under former negligence, or 
scattered through the dull, dark mass of common 
thoughts; and collecting them into a body, let thy 
genius rise (if a genius thou hast) as the sun from 
chaos; and if I should then say, like an Indian, 
Worship it, (though too bold) yet should I say httle 
more than my second rule enjoins, (viz.) Reverence 

That is, let not great examples, or authorities, 
browbeat thy reason into too great a diffidence of 
thyself: thyself so reverence, as to prefer the native 
growth of thy own mind to the richest import from 
abroad; such borrowed riches make us poor. The 
man who thus reverences himself, will soon find the 
world's reverence to follow his own. His works will 
stand distinguished; his the sole property of them; 
which property alone can confer the noble title of an 
author; that Js, of one who (to speak accurately) 
thinks and composes; while other invaders of the 
press, how voluminous and learned soever, (with due 
respect be it spoken) only read and write. 

This is the difference between those two luminaries 
in literature, the well-accomplished scholar, and the 
divinely-inspired enthusiast; the first is, as the bright 
morning star; the second, as the rising sun. The 
writer who neglects those two rules above will never 
stand alone ; he makes one of a group, and thinks in 
wretched unanimity with the throng: incumbered 
with the notions of others, and impoverished by their 
abundance, he conceives not the least embryo of new 
thought; opens not the least vista through the gloom 
of ordinary writers, into the bright walks of rare 
imagination, and singular design; while the true 
genius is crossing all public roads into fresh un- 
trodden ground; he, up to the knees in antiquity, is 
treading the sacred footsteps of great ex^Jnples, with 

240 L 

ago YOUNG 

the blind veneration of a bigot saluting the papal toe ; 
comfortably hoping full absolution for the sins of his 
own understanding, from the powerful charm of touch- 
ing his idol's infallibility. 

Such meanness of mind, such prostration of our 
own powers, proceeds from too great admiration of 
others. Admiration has, generally, a degree of two 
very bad ingredients in it; of ignorance, and of fear; 
and does mischief in composition, and in life. Proud 
as the world is, there is more superiority in it given 
than assumed; and its grandees of all kinds owe more 
of their elevation to the littleness of others' minds, 
than to the greatness of their own. Were not pros- 
trate spirits their voluntary pedestals, the figure 
they make among mankind would not stand so 
high. Imitators and translators are somewhat of 
the pedestal-kind, and sometimes rather raise their 
original's reputation, by showing him to be by them 
inimitable, than their own. Homer has been trans- 
lated into most languages; Aehan tells us that the 
Indians (hopeful tutors!) have taught him to speak 
their tongue. What expect we from them? Not 
Homer's Achilles, but something which, like Patroclus, 
assumes his name, and at its peril appears in his 
stead; nor expect we Homer's Ulysses, gloriously 
bursting out of his cloud into royal grandeur, but an 
Ulysses under disguise, and a beggar to the last. Such 
is that inimitable father of poetry, and oracle of all 
the wise, whom Lycurgus transcribed; and for an 
annual public recital of whose works Solon enacted a 
law; that it is much to be feared, that his so numerous 
translations are but as the published testimonials of 
so many nations and ages, that this author so divine 
is untranslated stiU. 

But here, 

Cynthius aurem 


ftnd demands justice for his favourite, and ours. Great 


things he has done ; but he might have done greater. 
What a fall is it from Homer's numbers, free as air, 
lofty and harmonious as the spheres, into childish 
shackles, and tinkling sounds! But, in his fall, he is 
still great: 

Nor appears 
Less than archangel ruin'd, and the excess 
Of glory obscur'd. — 


Had Milton never wrote. Pope had been less to 
blame: but when in Milton's genius, Homer, as it 
were, personally rose to forbid Britons doing him that 
ignoble wrong, it is less pardonable, by that effemi- 
nate decoration, to put Achilles in petticoats a second 
time. How much nobler had it been, if his numbers 
had rolled on in full flow, through the various modu- 
lations of masculine melody, into those grandeurs of 
solemn sound, which are indispensably demanded by 
the native dignity of heroic song ! How much nobler, 
if he had resisted the temptation of that Gothic demon, 
which, modern poesy tasting, became mortal! Oh, 
how unlike the deathless, divine harmony of three 
great names (how justly joined!), of Milton, Greece, 
and Rome ! His verse, but for this little speck of 
mortality in its extreme parts, as his hero had in his 
heel, like him, had been invulnerable and immortal. 
But, unfortunately, that was undipped in Helicon; 
as this, in Styx. Harmony as well as eloquence is 
essential to poesy; and a murder of his music is 
putting half Homer to death. Blank is a term of 
diminution; what we mean by blank verse, is, verse 
unfallen, uncurst ; verse reclaimed, reinthroned in the 
true language of the gods ; who never thundered nor 
suffered their Homer to thunder, in rhyme; and 
therefore, I beg you, my friend, to crown it with some 
nobler term; nor let the greatness of the thing lie 
under the defamation of such a name. 

But supposing Pope's Iliad to have been perfect 
in its kind; yet it is a translation still; which differs 

292 YOUNG 

as much from an original, as the moon from the 

— Phoeben alieno jusserat igne 

Impleri, solemque suo. 


But as nothing is more easy than to write originally 
wrong, originals are not here recommended, but 
under the strong guard of my first rule — Know thy- 
self. Lucian, who was an original, neglected not this 
rule, if we may judge by his reply to one who took 
some freedom with him. He was, at first, an appren- 
tice to a statuary; and when he was reflected on as 
such, by being called Prometheus, he replied, 'I am 
indeed the inventor of new work, the model of which 
I owe to none; and, if I do not execute it well, I 
deserve to be torn by twelve vultures, instead of one.' 
If so, O Gulliver! dost thou not shudder at thy 
brother Lucian's vultures hovering o'er thee? Shudder 
on! they cannot shock thee more than decency has 
been shocked by thee. How have thy Houyhnhnms 
thrown thy judgement from its seat, and laid thy 
imagination in the mire! In what ordure hast thou 
dipped thy pencil ! What a Monster hast thou made 
of the 

Human face divine! 


This writer has so satirized human nature, as to give 
a demonstration in himself, that it deserves to be 
satirized. But, say his wholesale admirers, few could 
so have written; true, and fewer would. If it required 
great abilities to commit the fault, greater still would 
have saved him from it. But whence arise such warm 
advocates for such a performance? From hence, viz. 
before a character is established, merit makes fame; 
afterwards fame makes merit. Swift is not com- 
mended for this piece, but this piece for Swift. He 
has given us some beauties which deserve all our 
praise; and our comfort is, that his faults will not 
become common; for none can be guilty of them, but 


who have wit as well as reputation to spare. His wit 
had been less wild, if his temper had not jostled his 
judgement. If his favourite houyhnhnms could write, 
and Swift had been one of them, every horse vwth 
him would have been an ass, and he would have 
written a panegyric on mankind, saddling with much 
reproach the present heroes of his pen. On the con- 
trary, being born amongst men, and, of consequence, 
piqued by many, and peevish at more, he has blas- 
phemed a nature little lower than that of angels, and 
assumed by far higher than they : but surely the con- 
tempt of the world is not a greater virtue than the 
contempt of mankind is a vice. Therefore I wonder 
that, though forborne by others, the laughter-loving 
Swift was not reproved by the venerable Dean, who 
could sometimes be very grave. 

For I remember, as I and others were taking with 
him an evening's walk, about a mile out of Dublin, 
he stopped short; we passed on; but perceiving that 
he did not follow us, I went back; and found him 
fixed as a statue, and earnestly gazing upward at a 
noble elm, which in its uppermost branches was much 
withered, and decayed. Pointing at it, he said, 'I 
shall be like that tree, I shall die at top.' As in this 
he seemed to prophesy like the Sibyls; if, like one of 
them, he had burnt part of his works, especially this 
blasted branch of a noble genius, like her too, he 
might have risen in his demand for the rest. 

Would not his friend Pope have succeeded better 
in an original attempt? Talents untried are talents 
unknown. All that I know is, that, contrary to these 
sentiments, he was not only an avowed professor of 
imitation, but a zealous recommender of it also. 
Nor could he recommend any thing better, except 
emulation, to those who write. One of these all 
writers must call to their aid; but aids they are of 
unequal repute. Imitation is inferiority confessed; 
emulation is superiority contested, or denied; imita- 
tion is servile, emulation generous; that fetters, this 

294 YOUNG 

fires; that may give a name; this, a name immortal: 
this made Athens to succeeding ages the rule of taste, 
and the standard of perfection. Her men of genius 
struck fire against each other; and kindled, by con- 
flict, into glories, which no time shall extinguish. 
We thank Aeschylus for Sophocles; and Parrhasius 
for Zeuxis; emulation, for both. That bids us fly the 
general fault of imitators; bids us not be struck with 
the loud report of former fame, as with a knell, which 
damps the spirits; but as with a trumpet, which 
inspires ardour to rival the renowned. Emulation 
exhorts us, instead of learning our discipline for ever, 
like raw troops, under ancient leaders in composition, 
to put those laurelled veterans in some hazard of 
losing their superior posts in glory. 

Such is emulation's high-spirited advice, such her 
immortalizing call. Pope would not hear, pre- 
engaged with Imitation, which blessed him with all 
her charms. He chose rather, with his namesake of 
Greece, to triumph in the old world, than to look out 
for a new. His taste partook the error of his religion; 
it denied not worship to saints and angels ; that is, to 
writers, who, canonized for ages, have received their 
apotheosis from established and universal fame. True 
poesy, like true religion, abhors idolatry; and though 
it honours the memory of the exemplary, and takes 
them willingly (yet cautiously) as guides in the way to 
glory; real, though unexampled, excellence is its only 
aim; nor looks it for any inspiration less than diyme. 
Though Pope's noble Muse may boast her illus- 
trious descent from Homer, Virgil, Horace, yet is an 
original author more nobly born. As Tacitus says of 
Curtius Rufus, an original author is born of himself, 
is his own progenitor, and will probably propagate 
a numerous offspring of imitators, to eternize his 
glory; while mule-like imitators die without issue. 
Therefore, though we stand much obliged for his giving 
us an Homer, yet had he doubled our obligation by 
giving us — a Pope. Had he a strong imagination. 


and the true sublime? That granted, we might have 
had two Homers instead of one, if longer had been 
his life; for I heard the dying swan talk over an epic 
plan a few weeks before his decease. 

Bacon, under the shadow of whose great name I 
would shelter my present attempt in favour of origin- 
als, says, 'Men seek not to know their own stock, and 
abilities ; but fancy their possessions to be greater, and 
their abilities less, than they really are.' Which is, in 
effect, saying, 'That we ought to exert more than we 
do ; and that, on exertion, our probability of success 
is greater than we conceive.' 

Nor have I Bacon's opinion only, but his assistance 
too, on my side. His mighty mind travelled round the 
intellectual world; and, with a more than eagle's eye, 
saw, and has pointed out, blank spaces, or dark spots 
in it, on which the human mind never shone: some 
of these have been enlightened since; some are be- 
nighted still. 

Moreover, so boundless are the bold excursions of 
the human mind, that, in the vast void beyond real 
existence, it can call forth shadowy beings, and un- 
known worlds, as numerous, as bright, and, perhaps, 
as lasting, as the stars; such quite-original beauties 
we may call paradisaical. 

Natos sine semineflores. 


When such an ample area for renowned adventure 
in original attempts lies before us, shall we be as mere 
leaden pipes, conveying to the present age small 
streams of excellence from its grand reservoir in 
antiquity; and those too, perhaps, muddled in the 
pass? Originals shine, like comets; have no peer in 
their path; are rivalled by none, and the gaze of all. 
All other compositions (if they shine at all) shine in 
clusters; like the stars in the galaxy; where, like bad 
neighbours, all suffer from all; each particular being 
diminished, and almost lost in the throng. 

296 YOUNG 

If thoughts of this nature prevailed; if ancients and 
moderns were no longer considered as masters and 
pupils, but as hard-matched rivals for renown; then 
moderns, by the longevity of their labours, might, 
one day, become ancients themselves : and old Time, 
that best weigher of merits, to keep his balance even, 
might have the golden weight of an Augustan age 
in both his scales: or rather our scale might descend; 
and that of antiquity (as a modern match for it 
strongly speaks) might kick the beam. 

And why not? For consider, since an impartial 
Providence scatters talents indifferently, as through 
all orders of persons, so through all periods of time ; 
since, a marvellous light, unenjoyed of old, is poured 
on us by revelation, with larger prospects extending 
our understanding, with brighter objects enriching 
our imagination, with an inestimable prize setting our 
passions on fire, thus strengthening every power that 
enables composition to shine; since there has been 
no fall in man on this side Adam, who left no 
works, and the works of all other ancients are our 
auxiliars against themselves, as being perpetual spurs 
to our ambition, and shining lamps in our path to 
fame; since this world is a school, as well for intellec- 
tual, as moral, advance ; and the longer human nature 
is at school, the better scholar it should be; since, as 
the moral world expects its glorious millennium, the 
world intellectual may hope, by the rules of analogy, 
for some superior degrees of excellence to crown her 
later scenes; nor may it only hope, but must enjoy 
them too; for Tully, Quintilian, and all true critics 
allow, that virtue assists genius, and that the writer 
will be more able, when better is the man — all these 
particulars, I say, considered, why should it seem 
altogether impossible, that heaven's latest editions 
of the human mind may be the most correct, and 
fair? that the day may come, when the moderns may 
proudly look back on the comparative darkness of 
former ages, on the children of antiquity; reputing 


Homer and Demosthenes as the dawn of divine 
genius, and Athens as the cradle of infant fame? 
What a glorious revolution would this make in the 
rolls of renown ! 

What a rant, say you, is here? — I partly grant it. 
Yet, consider, my friend ! knowledge physical, mathe- 
matical, moral, and divine, increases; all arts and 
sciences are making considerable advance; with 
them, all the accommodations, ornaments, delights, 
and glories of human life ; and these are new food to 
the genius of a polite writer; these are as the root, and 
composition as the flower; and as the root spreads 
and thrives, shall the flower fail ? As well may a flower 
flourish, when the root is dead. It is prudence to read, 
genius to relish, glory to surpass, ancient authors ; and 
wisdom to try our strength, in an attempt in which it 
would be no great dishonour to fail. 

Why condemned Maro his admirable epic to the 
flames? Was it not because his discerning eye saw 
some length of perfection beyond it? And what he 
saw, may not others reach? And who bid fairer than 
our countrymen for that glory? Something new may 
be expected from Britons particularly; who seem not 
to be more severed from the rest of mankind by the 
surrounding sea, than by the current in their veins; 
and of whom little more appears to be required, in 
order to give us originals, than a consistency of 
character, and making their compositions of a piece 
with their lives. May our genius shine; and proclaim 
us in that nobler view ! 

. . . minima conlentos node Britannos. 


And so it does; for in polite composition, in natural 
and mathematical knowledge, we have great originals 
already — Bacon, Boyle, Newton Shakespeare, Milton, 
have showed us, that all the winds cannot blow the 
British flag farther, than an original spirit can convey 
the British fame; their names go round the world; 

298 YOUNG 

and what foreign genius strikes not as they pass? 
Why should not their posterity embark in the same 
bold bottom of new enterprise, and hope the same 
success? Hope it they may; or you must assert, 
either that those originals which we already enjoy, 
were written by angels, or deny that we are men. As 
Simonides said to Pausanias, reason should say to the 
writer, 'Remember thou art a man.' And for man 
not to grasp at all which is laudable within his reach, 
is a dishonour to human nature, and a disobedience 
to the divine; for as heaven does nothing in vain, its 
gift of talents implies an injunction of their use. 

A friend of mine has obeyed that injunction; he 
has relied on himself, and with a genius, as well moral 
as original (to speak in bold terms), has cast out evil 
spirits; has made a convert to virtue of a species of 
composition, once most its foe. As the first Christian 
emperors expelled demons, and dedicated their tem- 
ples to the living God. 

But you, I know, are sparing in your praise of this 
author; therefore I will speak of one, which is sure 
of your applause. Shakespeare mingled no water with 
his wine, lowered his genius by no vapid imitation. 
Shakespeare gave us a Shakespeare, nor could the 
first in ancient fame have given us naore! Shake- 
speare is not their son, but brother; their equal; and 
that, in spite of all his faults. Think you this too 
bold? Consider, in those ancients what it is the world 
admires! Not the fewness of their faults, but the 
number and brightness of their beauties; and if 
Shakespeare is their equal (as he doubtless is) in that 
which in them is admired, then is Shakespeare as 
great as they; and not impotence, but some other 
cause, must be charged with his defects. When we 
are setting these great men in competition, what but 
the comparative size of their genius is the subject of 
our inquiry? And a giant loses nothing of his size, 
though he should chance to trip in his race. But it is 
a compliment to those heroes of antiquity to suppose 


Shakespeare their equal only in dramatic powers; 
therefore, though his faults had been greater, the 
scale would still turn in his favour. There is at least 
as much genius on the British as on the Grecian stage, 
though the former is not swept so clean — so clean 
from violations not only of the dramatic, but moral 
rule; for an honest heathen, on reading some of our 
celebrated scenes, might be seriously concerned to 
see, that our obligations to the religion of Nature 
were cancelled by Christianity. 

Jonson, in the serious drama, is as much an imitator 
as' Shakespeare is an original. He was very learned, 
as Samson was very strong, to his own hurt: blind 
to the nature of tragedy, he pulled down all antiquity 
on his head, and buried himself under it; we see 
nothing of Jonson, nor indeed of his admired (but 
also murdered) ancients; for what shone in the 
historian is a cloud on the poet; and Catiline might 
have been a good play, if Sallust had never written. 
Who knows whether Shakespeare might not have 
thought less, if he had read more ? Who knows, if he 
might not have laboured under the load of Jonson's 
learning, as Enceladus under Etna? His mighty 
genius, indeed, through the most mountainous op- 
pression would have breathed out some of his in- 
extinguishable fire; yet, possibly, he might not have 
risen up into that giant, that much more than common 
man, at which we now gaze with amazement, and 
delight. Perhaps he was as learned as his dramatic 
province required; for whatever other learning he 
wanted, he was master of two books, unknown to 
many of the profoundly read, though books which the 
last conflagration alone can destroy; the book of 
Nature, and that of man. These he had by heart, 
and has transcribed many admirable pages of them, 
into his immortal works. These are the fountain- 
head, whence the Castalian streams of original com- 
position flow; and these are often muddied by other 
waters, though waters in their distinct channel, most 

300 YOUNG 

wholesome and pure: as two chemical liquors, 
separately clear as crystal, grow foul by mixture, and 
offend the sight. So that he had not only as much 
learning as his dramatic province required, but, 
perhaps, as it could safely bear. If Milton had spared 
some of his learning, his muse would have gained 
more glory, than he would have lost by it. 

Dryden, destitute of Shakespeare's genius, had 
almost as much learning as Jonson, and, for the 
buskin, quite as little taste. He was a stranger to the 
pathos, and, by numbers, expression, sentiment, and 
every other dramatic cheat, strove to make amends 
for it ; as if a saint could make amends for the want of 
conscience; a soldier, for the want of valour; or a 
vestal, of modesty. The noble nature of tragedy 
disclaims an equivalent; like virtue, it demands the 
heart; and Dryden had none to give. Let epic poets 
think, the tragedian's point is rather to feel; such 
distant things are a tragedian and a poet, that the 
latter indulged destroys the former. Look on Barnwell, 
and Essex, and see how as to these distant charac- 
ters Dryden excels, and is excelled. But the strongest 
demonstration of his no-taste for the buskin are his 
tragedies fringed with rhyme; which, in epic poetry, 
is a sore disease, in the tragic, absolute death. To 
Dryden's enormity. Pope's was a light offence. As 
lacemen are foes to mourning, these two authors, rich 
in rhyme, were no great friends to those solemn 
ornaments, which the noble nature of their works 

Must rhyme then, say you, be banished? I wish 
the nature of our language could bear its entire ex- 
pulsion; but our lesser poetry stands in need of a 
toleration for it; it raises that, but sinks the great; 
as spangles adorn children, but expose men. Prince 
Henry bespangled all over in his eyelet-hole suit, 
with glittering pins; and an Achilles, or an Almanzor, 
in his Gothic array; are very much on a level, as to the 
majesty of the poet, and the prince. Dryden had a 


great, but a general capacity; and as for a general 
genius, there is no such thing in Nature. A genius 
impHes the rays of the mind concentred, and deter- 
mined to some particular point; when they are 
scattered widely, they act feebly, and strike not with 
sufficient force, to fire, or dissolve, the heart. As what 
comes from the writer's heart reaches ours; so what 
comes from his head sets our brains at work, and our 
hearts at ease. It makes a circle of thoughtful critics, 
not of distressed patients ; and a passive audience is 
what tragedy requires. Applause is not to be given, 
but extorted; and the silent lapse of a single tear does 
the writer more honour than the rattling thunder of 
a thousand hands. Applauding hands and dry eyes 
(which during Dryden's theatrical reign often met) 
are a satire on the writer's talent, and the spectator's 
taste. When by such judges the laurel is blindly 
given, and by such a poet proudly received, they 
resemble an intoxicated host, and his tasteless guests, 
over some sparkling adulteration, commending their 

But Dryden has his glory, though not on the stage. 
What an inimitable original is his ode ! A small one, 
indeed, but of the first lustre, and without a flaw; and, 
amid the brightest boasts of antiquity, it may find a foil. 

Among the brightest of the moderns, Mr. Addison 
must take his place. Who does not approach his 
character with great respect? They who refuse to 
close with the public in his praise, refuse at their peril. 
But, if men will be fond of their own opinions, some 
hazard must be run. He had, what Dryden and 
Jonson wanted, a warm and feeling heart; but, being 
of a grave and bashful nature, through a philosophic 
reserve and a sort of moral prudery, he concealed it, 
where he should have let loose all his fire, and have 
showed the most tender sensibilities of heart. At his 
celebrated Cato, few tears are shed, but Cato's own; 
which, indeed, are truly great, but unaffecting, except 
to the noble few, who love their country better than 

302 YOUNG 

themselves. The bulk of mankind want virtue enough 
to be touched by them. His strength of genius has 
reared up one glorious image, more lofty and truly 
golden than that in the plains of Dura, for cool 
admiration to gaze at, and warm patriotism (how 
rare!) to worship; while those two throbbing pubes 
of the drama, by which alone it is showTi to live, 
terror and pitv', neglected through the whole, leave 
our unmolested hearts at perfect peace. Thus the 
poet, like his hero, through mistaken excellence, and 
virtue overstrained, becomes a sort of suicide; and 
that which is most dramatic in the drama, dies. All 
his charms of poetn.' are but as funeral flowers, which 
adorn; all his noble sentiments but as rich spices, 
which embalm, the tragedy deceased. 

Of tragedy, pathos is not only the life and soul, but 
the soul inextinguishable; it charms us through a 
thousand faults. Decorations, which in this author 
abound, though they might immortalize other poesy, 
are the splendida peccata which damn the drama; 
while, on the contrary, the murder of all other 
beauties is a venial sin, nor plucks the laurel from 
the tragedian's brow. Was it otherwise, Shakespeare 
himself would run some hazard of losing his crown. 

Socrates frequented the plays of Euripides; and 
what living Socrates would decline the theatre, at the 
representation of Catol Tully's assassins found him 
in the litter, reading the Aledea of the Grecian poet, 
to prepare himself for death. Part of Cato might be 
read to the same end. In the weight and dignity of 
moral reflection, Addison resembles that poet, who 
was called the dramatic philosopher; and is himself, 
as he says of Cato, 'ambitiously sententious'. But as to 
the singular talent so remarkable in Euripides, at 
melting down hearts into the tender streams of grief 
and pity, there the resemblance fails. His beauties 
sparkle, but do not warm ; they sparkle as stars in a 
frosty night. There is, indeed, a constellation in his 
play; there is the philosopher, patriot, orator, and 


poet; but where is the tragedian? And, if that is 

Cur in theatrum Cato severe venisti ? 


And, when I recollect what passed between him and 

Dryden in relation to this drama, I must add the next 

line, ^ . , ^ . T 

An idea tantum veneras, ut extresr 

For, when Addison was a student at Oxford, he sent 
up this play to his friend Dryden, as a proper person 
to recommend it to the theatre, if it deserved it; who 
returned it, with very great commendation; but with 
his opinion, that, on the stage, it could not meet with 
its deserved success. But though the performance was 
denied the theatre, it brought its author on the public 
stage of life. For persons in power inquiring soon 
after of the head of his college for a youth of parts, 
Addison was recommended, and readily received, by 
means of the great reputation which Dryden had just 
then spread of him above. 

There is this similitude between the poet and the 
play; as this is more fit for the closet than the stage; 
so, that shone brighter in private conversation than 
on the public scene. They both had a sort of local 
excellency, as the heathen gods a local divinity; 
beyond such a bound they, unadmired; and these, 
unadored. This puts me in mind of Plato, who denied 
Homer to the public; that Homer, which, when in 
his closet, was rarely out of his hand. Thus, though 
Cato is not calculated to signalize himself in the warm 
emotions of the theatre, yet we find him a most 
amiable companion in our calmer delights of recess. 

Notwithstanding what has been offered, this, in 
many views, is an exquisite piece. But there is so 
much more of art than nature in it, that I can scarce 
forbear calling it an exquisite piece of statuary. 

Where the smooth chisel all its skill has shown, 
To soften into flesh the rugged stone. 


304 YOUNG 

That is, where art has taken great pains to labour 
undramatic matter into dramatic life; which is im- 
possible. However, as it is, like Pygmalion, we cannot 
but fall in love with it, and wish it was alive. How 
would a Shakespeare, or an Otway, have answered 
our wishes? They would have outdone Prometheus, 
and, with their heavenly fire, have given him not only 
life, but immortality. At their dramas (such is the 
force of nature) the poet is out of sight, quite hid 
behind his Venus, never thought of, till the curtain 
falls. Art brings our author forward, he stands before 
his piece; splendidly indeed, but unfortunately; for 
the writer must be forgotten by his audience during 
the representation, if for ages he would be remem- 
bered by posterity. In the theatre, as in life, delusion 
is the charm; and we are undelighted the first moment 
we are undeceived. Such demonstration have we, 
that the theatre is not yet opened in which solid 
happiness can be found by man; because none are 
more than comparatively good; and folly has a corner 
in the heart of the wise. 

A genius fond of ornament should not be wedded 
to the tragic muse, which is in mourning: we want 
not to be diverted at an entertainment, where our 
greatest pleasure arises from the depth of our concern. 
But whence (by the way) this odd generation of 
pleasure from pain? The movement of our melan- 
choly passions is pleasant, when we ourselves are 
safe: we love to be at once miserable and unhurt. 
So are we made; and so made, perhaps, to show us 
the divine goodness; to show that none of our pas- 
sions were designed to give us pain, except when 
being pained is for our advantage on the whole; 
which is evident from this instance, in which we see 
that passions the most painful administer greatly, 
sometimes, to our delight. Since great names have 
accounted otherwise for this particular, I wish this 
solution, though to me probable, may not prove a 


To close our thoughts on Cato: he who sees not 
much beauty in it, has no taste for poetry; he who 
sees nothing else, has no taste for the stage. Whilst it 
justifies censure, it extorts applause. It is much to be 
admired, but little to be felt. Had it not been a 
tragedy, it had been immortal ; as it is a tragedy, its 
uncommon fate somewhat resembles his, who, for 
conquering gloriously, was condemned to die. Both 
shone, but shone fatally — because in breach of their 
respective laws, the laws of the drama, and the laws 
of arms. But how rich in reputation must that author 
be, who can spare a Cato, without feeling the loss ! 

That loss by our author would scarce be felt; it 
would be but dropping a single feather from a wing 
that mounts him above his contemporaries. He has 
a more refined, decent, judicious, and extensive genius, 
than Pope or Swift. To distinguish this triumvirate 
from each other, and, like Newton, to discover the 
different colours in these genuine and meridian rays 
of literary light, Swift is a singular wit, Pope a cor- 
rect poet, Addison a great author. Swift looked on 
wit as the jus divinum to dominion and sway in the 
world, and considered as usurpation all power that 
was lodged in persons of less sparkling understandings. 
This inclined him to tyranny in wit; Pope was some- 
what of his opinion, but was for softening tyranny 
into lawful monarchy; yet were there some acts of 
severity in his reign. Addison's crown was elective, 
he reigned by the public voice : 

. . . Volentes 
Per populos dat iura, viamque affectat Olympo. 


But as good books are the medicine of the mind, 
if we should dethrone these authors, and consider 
them, not in their royal, but their medicinal capacity, 
might it not then be said, that Addison prescribed 
a wholesome and pleasant regimen, which was uni- 
versally relished, and did much good; that Pope 

3o6 YOUNG 

preferred a purgative of satire, which, though whole- 
some, was too painful in its operation; and that 
Swift insisted on a large dose of ipecacuanha, which, 
though readily swallowed from the fame of the phy- 
sician, yet, if the patient had any delicacy of taste, 
he threw up the remedy, instead of the disease? 

Addison wrote little in verse, much in sweet, elegant, 
Virgilian prose ; so let me call it, since Longinus calls 
Herodotus most Homeric, and Thucydides is said to 
have formed his style on Pindar. Addison's composi- 
tions are built with the finest materials, in the taste 
of the ancients, and (to speak his own language) 
on truly classic ground: and though they are the 
delight of the present age, yet am I persuaded that 
they will receive more justice from posterity. I never 
read him, but I am struck with such a disheartening 
idea of perfection that I drop my pen. And, indeed, 
far superior writers should forget his compositions, if 
they would be greatly pleased with their own. 

And yet (perhaps you have not observed it) what 
is the common language of the w^rld, and even of 
his admirers, concerning him? They call him an 
elegant writer : that elegance which shines on the sur- 
face of his compositions, seems to dazzle their under- 
standing, and render it a litUe bUnd to the depth of 
sentiment which lies beneath: thus (hard fate!) he 
loses reputation with them, by doubling his title to it. 
On subjects the most interesting and important, no 
author of his age has written with greater, I had 
almost said with equal, weight: and they who com- 
mend him for his elegance, pay him such a sort of 
compliment, by their abstemious praise, as they 
would pay to Lucretia, if they should commend her 
only for her beauty. 

But you say that you know his value already. 
You know, indeed, the value of his wrirings, and 
close with the world in thinking them immortal; but, 
I believe, you know not that his name would have 
deserved immortality, though he had never written; 



and that, by a better title than the pen can give: 
you know too, that his life was amiable ; but, perhaps, 
you are still to learn that his death was triumphant: 
that is a glory granted to very few. And the paternal 
hand of Providence, which, sometimes, snatches home 
its beloved children in a moment, must convince us, 
that it is a glory of no great consequence to the dying 
individual; that, when it is granted, it is granted 
chiefly for the sake of the surviving world, which may 
profit by his pious example, to whom is indulged the 
strength and opportunity to make his virtue shine 
out brightest at the point of death. And here, permit 
me to take notice, that the world will, probably, 
profit more by a pious example of lay-extraction, than 
by one born of the church ; the latter being, usually, 
taxed with an abatement of influence by the bulk 
of mankind : therefore, to smother a bright example 
of this superior good influence, may be reputed a 
sort of murder injurious to the living, and unjust to 
the dead. 

Such an example have we in Addison ; which, though 
hitherto suppressed, yet, when once known, is in- 
suppressible, of a nature too rare, too striking to be 
forgotten. For, after a long and manly, but vain 
struggle with his distemper, he dismissed his physi- 
cians, and with them all hopes of life: but with his 
hopes of life he dismissed not his concern for the 
living, but sent for a youth nearly related, and finely 
accomplished, yet not above being the better for good 
impressions from a dying friend. He came; but life 
now glimmering in the socket, the dying friend was 
silent: after a decent and proper pause, the youth 
said, 'Dear Sir! you sent for me: I believe, and I 
hope, that you have some commands; I shall hold 
them most sacred.' May distant ages not only hear, 
but feel, the reply ! Forcibly grasping the youth's hand, 
he softly said, 'See in what peace a Christian can 
die.' He spoke with difficulty, and soon expired. 
Through grace divine, how great is man! Through 

3o8 YOUNG 

divine mercy, how stingless is death ! Who would not 
thus expire? 

What an inestimable legacy were those few dying 
words to the youth beloved ! What a glorious supple- 
ment to his own valuable fragment on the truth of 
Christianity! What a full demonstration, that his 
fancy could not feign beyond what his virtue could 
reach! For when he would strike us most strongly 
with the grandeur of Roman magnanimity, his dying 
hero is ennobled with this sublime sentiment, 

While yet I Uve, let me not live in vain. 


But how much more sublime is that sentiment when 
realized in life; when dispelling the languors, and 
appeasing the pains of a last hour, and brightening 
with illustrious action the dark avenue, and all-awful 
confines of an eternity ! When his soul scarce animated 
his body, strong faith and ardent charity animated 
his soul into divine ambition of saving more than his 
own. It is for our honour, and our advantage, to hold 
him high in our esteem: for the better men are, the 
more they will admire him ; and the more they admire 
him, the better will they be. 

By undrawing the long closed curtain of his death- 
bed, have I not showed you a stranger in him whom 
you knew so well? Is not this of your favourite 

— Notd maior imago? 


His compositions are but a noble preface; the grand 
work is his death: that is a work which is read in 
heaven: how has it joined the final approbation of 
angels to the previous applause of men ! How glori- 
ously has he opened a splendid path, through fame 
immortal, into eternal peace! How has he given 
religion to triumph amidst the ruins of his nature! 
And, stronger than death, risen higher in virtue when 
breathing his last! 


If all our men of genius had so breathed their 
last; if all our men of genius, like him, had been men 
of genius for eternals ; then had we never been pained 
by the report of a latter end — oh ! how unlike to this ! 
But a little to balance our pain, let us consider that 
such reports as make us, at once, adore and tremble, 
are of use, when too many there are who must tremble 
before they will adore; and who convince us, to our 
shame, that the surest refuge of our endangered 
virtue is in the fears and terrors of the disingenuous 
human heart. 

'But reports, you say, may be false ; and you farther 
ask me. If all reports were true, how came an anec- 
dote of so much honour to human nature, as mine, 
to lie so long unknown? What inauspicious planet 
interposed to lay its lustre under so lasting and so 
surprising an eclipse?' 

The fact is indisputably true; nor are you to rely 
on me for the truth of it : my report is but a second 
edition: it was published before, though obscurely, 
and with a cloud before it. As clouds before the sun 
are often beautiful, so this of which I speak. How 
finely pathetic are those two lines, which this so 
solemn and affecting scene inspired ! 

He taught us how to live; and, oh! too high 
A price for knowledge, taught us how to die. 


With truth wrapped in darkness, so sung our 
oracle to the public, but explained himself to me: 
he was present at his patron's death, and that ac- 
count of it here given, he gave to me before his 
eyes were dry. By what means Addison taught us 
how to die, the poet left to be made known by a 
late, and less able hand ; but one more zealous for his 
patron's glory — zealous, and impotent, as the poor 
Egyptian, who gathered a few splinters of a broken 
boat, as a funeral pile for the great Pompey, studious 
of doing honour to so renowned a name: yet had not 

310 YOUNG 

this poor plank (permit me, here, so to call this im- 
perfect page) been thrown out, the chief article of 
his patron's glory would probably have been sunk for 
ever, and late ages have received but a fragment of 
his fame: a fragment glorious indeed, for his genius 
how bright! But to commend him for composition, 
though immortal, is detraction now, if there our 
encomium ends : let us look farther to that concluding 
scene, which spoke human nature not unrelated to 
the divine. To that let us pay the long and large 
arrear of our greatly posthumous applause. 

This you will think a long digression, and justly, 
if that may be called a digression, which was my chief 
inducement for writing at all. I had long wished to 
deliver up to the public this sacred deposit, which by 
Providence was lodged in my hands; and I entered 
on the present undertaking partly as an introduction 
to that, which is more worthy to see the light; of 
which I gave an intimation in the beginning of my 
letter : for this is the monumental marble there men- 
tioned, to which I promised to conduct you; this is 
the sepulchral lamp, the long-hidden lustre of our 
accomplished country-man, who now rises as from his 
tomb, to receive the regard so greatly due to the 
dignity of his death; a death to be distinguished by 
tears of joy; a death which angels beheld with delight. 

And shall that, which would have shone conspi- 
cuous amid the resplendent lights of Christianity's 
glorious morn, by these dark days be dropped into 
oblivion? Dropped it is; and dropped by our sacred, 
august, and ample register of renown, which has 
entered in its marble memoirs the dim splendour of 
far inferior worth : though so lavish of praise, and so 
talkative of the dead, yet is it silent on a subject, 
which (if any) might have taught its unlettered stones 
to speak. If powers were not wanting, a monument 
more durable than those of marble should proudly rise 
in this ambitious page, to the new and far nobler Ad- 
dison, than that which you, and the public, have so 



long and so much admired: nor this nation only; 
for it is Europe's Addison, as well as ours; though 
Europe knows not half his title to her esteem; being as 
yet unconscious that the dying Addison far outshines 
her Addison immortal. Would we resemble him? 
Let us not limit our ambition to the least illustrious 
part of his character; heads, indeed, are crowned on 
earth; but hearts only are crowned in heaven: a 
truth, which, in such an age of authors, should not 
be forgotten. 

It is piously to be hoped, that this narrative may 
have some effect, since all listen, when a death-bed 
speaks; and regard the person departing as an actor 
of a part, which the great master of the drama has 
appointed us to perform to-morrow. This was a 
Roscius on the stage of life; his exit how great! 
Ye lovers of virtue, plauditel and let us, my friend! 
ever 'remember his end, as well as our own, that we 
may never do amiss.' — I am, 

Dear Sir, 
Your most obliged, 
humble servant. 

P.S. — How far Addison is an original, you will 
see in my next; where I descend from this conse- 
crated ground into his sublunary praise; and great is 
the descent, though into noble heights of intellectual 



{Utter VI) 

IET it be no surprise to you that, in the close of 
-i my last letter, I presumed to bring the Gierusa- 
lemme liberata into competition with the Iliad. 

So far as the heroic and Gothic manners are the 
same, the pictures of each, if well taken, must be 
equally entertaining. But I go farther, and main- 
tain that the circumstances, in which they differ, are 
clearly to the advantage of the Gothic designers. 

You see my purpose is to lead you from this 
forgotten chivalry to a more amusing subject, I 
mean the poetry we still read, and which was founded 
upon it. 

Much has been said, and with great truth, of the 
felicity of Homer's age, for poetical manners. But 
as Homer was a citizen of the world, when he had 
seen in Greece, on the one hand, the manners he 
has described, could he, on the other hand, have seen 
in the west the manners of the feudal ages, I make no 
doubt but he would certainly have preferred the 
latter. And the grounds of this preference would, I 
suppose, have been 'the improved gallantry of the 
feudal times; and the superior solemnity of their 

If any great poet, like Homer, had lived amongst, 
and sung of, the Gothic knights (for after all Spenser 
and Tasso came too late, and it was impossible for 
them to paint truly and perfectly what was no longer 
seen or believed) this preference, I persuade myself, 
had been very sensible. But their fortune was not 
so happy. 


— omnes illacrymabiles 
Urgentur, ignotique longd 
J\'octe, carent quia vate sacro. 

As it is, we may take a guess of what the subject 
was capable of affording to real genius from the rude 
sketches we have of it, in the old romancers. And it 
is but looking into any of them to be convinced that 
the gallantry, which inspirited the feudal times, was 
of a nature to furnish the poet with finer scenes and 
subjects of description in every view, than the simple 
and uncontrolled barbarity of the Grecian. 

The principal entertainment arising from the de- 
lineation of these consists in the exercise of the bois- 
terous passions, which are provoked and kept alive 
from one end of the Iliad to the other, by every 
imaginable scene of rage, revenge, and slaughter. In 
the other, together with these, the gentler and more 
humane affections are awakened in us by the most 
interesting displays of love and friendship; of love, 
elevated to its noblest heights; and of friendship, 
operating on the purest motives. The mere variety 
of these paintings is a relief to the reader as well as 
writer. But their beauty, novelty, and pathos give 
them a vast advantage on the comparison. 

Consider, withal, the surprises, accidents, adven- 
tures which probably and naturally attend on the 
life of wandering knights; the occasion there must 
be for describing the wonders of different countries, 
and of presenting to view the manners and policies 
of distant states: all which make so conspicuous a 
part of the materials of the greater poetry. 

So that, on the whole, though the spirit, passions, 
rapine, and violence of the two sets of manners were 
equal, yet there was a dignity, a magnificence, a 
variety in the feudal, which the other wanted. 

As to religious machinery, perhaps the popular 
system of each was equally remote from reason, yet 
the latter had something in it more amusing, as well 
as more awakening to the imagination. 

314 HURD 

The current popular tales of elves and fairies were 
even fitter to take the credulous mind, and charm it 
into a willing admiration of the specious miracles 
which way^'ard fancy delights in, than those of the 
old traditionary rabble of pagan divinities. And then, 
for the more solemn fancies of witchcraft and incanta- 
tion, the horrors of the Gothic were above measure 
striking and terrible. The mummeries of the pagan 
priests were childish, but the Gothic enchanters shook 
and alarmed all nature. 

We feel this difference very sensibly in reading 
the ancient and modern poets. You would not com- 
pare the Canidia of Horace with the witches in 
Macbeth. And what are Virgil's myrtles dropping 
blood, to Tasso's enchanted forest? 

Ovid indeed, who had a fancy tvirned to romance, 
makes Medea, in a rant, talk wildly. But was this 
the common language of their other writers? The 
enchantress in Virgil says coolly of the very chiefest 
prodigies of her charms and poisons, 

His ego saepe lupum fieri, et se condsre sylvis 
Aloerin; saepe animas imis excire sepulchris, 
Atque salas alio vidi traducere messes. 

The admirable poet has given an air of the mar- 
vellous to his subject, by the magic of his expression. 
Else, what do we find here, but the ordinary effects 
of melancholy, the vulgar superstition of evoking 
spirits, and the supposed influence of fascination on 
the hopes of rural industry? 

Non isthic oblique oculo mihi commoda quisquam 
Limat . . . 

says the poet of his country-seat, as if this security 
from a fascinating eye were a singular privilege, and 
the mark of a more than common good fortune. 

Shakespeare, on the other hand, with a terrible 
sublime (which not so much the energy of his genius, 
as the nature of his subject drew from him) gives us 

another idea of the rough magic, as he calls it, of 
fairy enchantment: 

... I have bedimm'd 
The noon-tide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds. 
And 'twixt the green sea and the azure vault 
Set roaring war; to the dread rattling thunder 
Have I giv'n fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak 
With his own bolt : The strong- bas'd promontory 
Have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck'd up 
The pine and cedar: Graves, at my command. 
Have open'd, and let forth their sleepers . . . 

The last circumstance, you will say, is but the 
animas imis excire sepulchris of the Latin poet. But a 
very significant word marks the difference. The 
pagan necromancers had a hundred little tricks by 
which they pretended to call up the ghosts, or shadows 
of the dead : but these, in the ideas of paganism, were 
quite another thing from Shakespeare's sleepers. 

This may serve for a cast of Shakespeare's magic : 
and I can't but think that when Milton wanted to 
paint the horrors of that night (one of the noblest 
parts in his Paradise Regained), which the devil himself 
is feigned to conjure up in the wilderness, the Gothic 
language and ideas helped him to work up his 
tempest with such terror. You will judge from these 

. . . nor staid the terror there; 

Infernal ghosts and hellish furies round 

Environ'd thee; some howl'd, some yell'd, some shriek'd, 

Some bent at thee their fiery darts . . . 

But above all from the following: 

Thus pass'd the night so foul, till morning fair 
Came forth with pilgrim steps in amice gray, 
Who with her radiant finger still'd the roar 
Of thunder, chas'd the clouds, and laid the winds 
And griesljy specters . . . 

Where the radiant finger points at the potent wand 
of the Gothic magicians, which could reduce the 

3i6 HURD 

calm of nature, upon occasion, as well as disturb 
it; and the grisly spectres laid by the approach of 
morn, were apparently of their raising, as a saga- 
cious critic perceived when he took notice 'how very 
injudicious it was to retail the popular superstition 
in this place'. 

After all, the conclusion is not to be drawn so 
much from particular passages, as from the general 
impression left on our minds in reading the ancient 
and modern poets. And this is so much in favour 
of the latter that Mr. Addison scruples not to say, 
'The ancients have not much of this poetry among 
them; for, indeed (continues he) almost the whole 
substance of it owes its original to the darkness and 
superstition of later ages. Our forefathers looked 
upon nature with more reverence and horror, before 
the world was enlightened by learning and philosophy, 
and loved to astonish themselves with the apprehen- 
sions of witchcraft, prodigies, charms, and enchant- 
ments. There was not a village in England, that had 
not a ghost in it, the churchyards were all haunted, 
every large common had a circle of fairies belonging 
to it, and there was scarce a shepherd to be met with 
who had not seen a spirit.' 

We are upon enchanted ground, my friend; and 
you are to think yourself well used that I detain you 
no longer in this fearful circle. The glimpse, you have 
had of it, will help your imagination to conceive the 
rest. And without more words you will readily 
apprehend that the fancies of our modern bards are 
not only more gallant, but, on a change of the scene, 
more sublime, more terrible, more alarming, than 
those of the classic fablers. In a word, you will find 
that the manners they paint, and the superstitions 
they adopt, are the more poetical for being Gothic. 



(Letter VII) 

But nothing shows the difference of the two systems 
under consideration more plainly, than the effect 
they really had on the two greatest of our poets ; at 
least the two which an English reader is most fond to 
compare with Homer, I mean Spenser and Milton. 

It is not to be doubted but that each of these 
bards had kindled his poetic fire from classic fables. 
So that, of course, their prejudices would lie that 
way. Yet they both appear, when most inflamed, 
to have been more particularly wrapt with the Gothic 
fables of chivalry. 

Spenser, though he had been long nourished with 
the spirit and substance of Homer and Virgil, chose 
the times of chivalr>' for his theme, and fairy land 
for the scene of his fictions. He could have planned, 
no doubt, an heroic design on the exact classic model : 
or, he might have trimmed between the Gothic and 
classic, as his contemporary Tasso did. But the 
charms of fairy prevailed. And if any think he was 
seduced by Ariosto into this choice, they should con- 
sider that it could be only for the sake of his subject; 
for the genius and character of these poets was widely 

Under this idea then of a Gothic, not classical 
poem, the Faerie Qiieene is to be read and criticized. 
And on these principles, it would not be difficult 
to unfold its merit in another way than has been 
hitherto attempted. 

Milton, it is true, preferred the classic model to 
the Gothic. But it was after long hesitation; and his 
favourite subject was Arthur and his knights of the 
round table. On this he had fixed for the greater 
part of his life. What led him to change his mind was, 
partly, as I suppose, his growing fanaticism; partly, 
his ambition to take a different route from Spenser; 

3i8 HURD 

but chiefly perhaps, the discredit into which the 
stories of chivalry had now fallen by the immortal 
satire of Cervantes. Yet we see through all his poetry, 
where his enthusiasm flames out most, a certain 
predilection for the legends of chivalry before the 
fables of Greece. 

This circumstance, you know, has given offence 
to the austerer and more mechanical critics. They 
are ready to censure his judgement, as juvenile and 
unformed, when they see him so delighted, on all 
occasions, with the Gothic romances. But do these 
censors imagine that Milton did not perceive the 
defects of these works, as well as they? No: it was 
not the composition of books of chivalry, but the 
manners described in them, that took his fancy; as 
appears from his Allegro : 

Towred cities please us then 
And the busy hum of men, 
Where throngs of knights and barons bold 
In weeds of peace high triumphs hold. 
With store of ladies, whose bright eyes 
Rain influence, and judge the prize 
Of wit, or arms, while both contend 
To win her grace, whom all commend. 

And when in the Penseroso he draws, by a fine 
contrivance, the same kind of image to soothe melan- 
choly which he had before given to excite mirth, he 
indeed extols an author of one of these romances, 
as he had before, in general, extolled the subject of 
them ; but it is an author worthy of his praise ; not the 
writer ofAmadis or Sir Launcelot of the Lake, but Chaucer 
himself, who has left an unfinished story on the Gothic 
or feudal model : 

Or call up him that left half-told 

The story of Cambuscan bold. 

Of Camball and of Algarsife, 

And who had Canace to wife 

That own'd the virtuous ring and glass 

And of the wondrous horse of brass. 


On which the Tartar king did rid't; 
And if aught else great bards beside 
In sage and solemn tunes have sung 
Of tourneys and of trophies hung, 
Of forests and enchantments drear, 
Where more is meant than meets the ear. 

The conduct then of these two poets may inchnc 
us to think with more respect than is commonly done 
of the Gothic manners, I mean as adapted to the uses 
of the greater poetry. 

I say nothing of Shakespeare because the sublimity 
(the divinity, let it be, if nothing else will serve) of his 
genius kept no certain route, but rambled at hazard 
into all the regions of human life and manners. So 
that we can hardly say what he preferred or what 
he rejected on full deliberation. Yet one thing is 
clear, that even he is greater when he uses Gothic 
manners and machinery than when he employs classi- 
cal : which brings us again to the same point, that the 
former have, by their nature and genius, the ad- 
vantage of the latter in producing the sublime. 


{Letter VIII) 

I SPOKE 'of criticizing Spenser's poem, under the idea 
not of a classical but Gothic composition'. 

It is certain much light might be thrown on that 
singular work, were an able critic to consider it in 
this view. For instance, he might go some way to- 
wards explaining, perhaps justifying, the general plan 
and conduct of the Faerie Queene, which to classical 
readers has appeared indefensible. 

I have taken the fancy, with your leave, to try my 
hand on this curious sutiject. 

When an architect examines a Gothic structure 
by Grecian rules, he finds nothing but deformity. 

320 HURD 

But the Gothic architecture has its own rules, by 
which when it comes to be examined, it is seen to 
have its merit, as well as the Grecian. The question 
is not, which of the two is conducted in the simplest 
or truest taste: but whether there be not sense and 
design in both, when scrutinized by the laws on which 
each is projected. 

The same observation holds of the two sorts of 
poetry. Judge of the Faerie Queene by the classic niodels, 
and you are shocked with its disorder: consider it 
with an eye to its Gothic original, and you find it 
regular. The unity and simplicity of the former are 
more complete: but the latter has that sort of unity 
and simplicity which results from its nature. 

The Faerie Queene then, as a Gothic poem, derives 
its method, as well as the other characters of its com- 
posidon, from the established modes and ideas of 

It was usual, in the days of knight-errantry, at 
the holding of any great feast, for knights to appear 
before the prince who presided at it, and claim the 
privilege of being sent on any adventure, to which 
the solemnity might give occasion. For it was sup- 
posed that, when such a throng of knights and barons 
bold as Milton speaks of, were got together, the 
distressed would flock in from all quarters, as to a 
place where they knew they might find and claim 
redress for all their grievances. 

This was the real practice, in the days of pure and 
ancient chivalry. And an image of this practice was 
afterwards kept up in the castles of the great, on any 
extraordinary festival or solemnity : of which, if you 
want an instance, I refer you to the description of a 
feast made at Lisle in 1453, in the court of Philip the 
Good, Duke of Burgundy, for a crusade against 
the Turks: as you may find it given at large in the 
memoirs of Matthieu de Conci, Olivier de la Marche, 
and Monstrelet. 

That feast was held for twelve days : and each day 


was distinguished by the claim and allowance of 
some adventure. 

Now la^dng down this practice, as a foundation 
for the poet's design, you will see how properly the 
Faerie Queene is conducted. 

'I devise,' says the poet himself in his Letter to 
Sir W. Raleigh, 'that the Faery Queen kept her 
annual feaste xii days: upon which xii several days, 
the occasions of the xii several adventures hapened; 
which being undertaken by xii several knights, are in 
these xii books severally handled.' 

Here you have the poet delivering his own method, 
and the reason of it. It arose out of the order of his 
subject. And would you desire a better reason for 
his choice? 

Yes, you will say; a poet's method is not that of 
his subject. I grant you, as to the order of time, 
in which the recital is made; for here, as Spenser 
observes (and his own practice agrees to the rule), 
lies the main difference between the poet historical 
and the historiographer. The reason of which is drawn 
from the nature of epic composition itself, and holds 
equally, let the subject be what it will, and whatever 
the system of manners be on which it is conducted. 
Gothic or classic makes no difference in this respect. 

But the case is not the same with regard to the 
general plan of a work, or what may be called the 
order of distribution, which is and must be governed 
by the subject-matter itself. It was as requisite for the 
Faerie Queene to consist of the adventures of twelve 
knights as for the Odyssey to be confined to the adven- 
tures of one hero: justice had otherwise not been done 
to his subject. 

So that if you will say anything against the poet's 
method, you must say that he should not have chosen 
this subject. But this objection arises from your 
classic ideas of unity, which have no place here; and 
are in every view foreign to the purpose, if the poet 
has found means to give his work, though consisUng 

240 M 

322 HURD 

of many parts, the advantage of unity. For in some 
reasonable sense or other it is agreed every work of 
art miist be one, the very idea of a work requiring it. 

If you ask then what is this unitv of Spenser's 
poem? I say it consists in the relation of its several 
adventures to one common original, the appointment 
of the Faerie Queen ; and to one common end, the 
completion of the Faerie Queen's injunctions. The 
knights issued forth on their adventures on the break- 
ing up of this annual feast; and the next annual 
feast, we are to suppose, is to bring them together 
again from the achievement of their several charges. 

This, it is true, is not the classic unity, which 
consists in the representation of one entire action: 
but it is a unity of another sort, a unity resulting 
from the respect which a number of related actions 
have to one common purpose. In other words, it is 
a unity of design and not of action. 

This Gothic method of design in poetry may be, 
in some sort, illustrated by what is called the Gothic 
method of design in gardening. A wood or grove cut 
out into many separate avenues or glades was amongst 
the most favourite of the works of art, which our 
fathers attempted in this species of cultivation. These 
walks were distinct from each other, had each their 
several destination, and terminated on their own 
proper objects. Yet the whole was brought together 
and considered under one view by the reladon which 
these various openings had, not to each other, but to 
their common and concurrent centre. You and I are, 
perhaps, agreed that this sort of gardening is not 
of so true a taste as that which Kent and Nature 
have brought us acquainted with ; where the supreme 
art of the designer consists in disposing his ground 
and objects into an entire landscape; and grouping 
them, if I may use the term, in so easy a manner, 
that the careless observer, though he be taken with 
the symmetry of the whole, discovers no art in the 
combination : 


In lieto aspctto il bel giardin s'aperse, 

Acquc stagnant!, mobili cristalli, 

Fior vari, e varie piante, herbe diverse, 

Apriche collinette, ombrose valli, 

Selve, e spelunche in una vista offerse: 

E quel, che'l bello, e'l caro accresce a I'opre, 

L'Arte, che tutto fa, nulla si scopre. 

1'asso. C. xvi. S. ix. 

This, I say, may be the truest taste in gardening, 
because the simplest. Yet there is a manifest regard 
to unity in the other method; which has had its 
admirers, as it may have again, and is certainly not 
without its design and beauty. 

But to return to our poet. Thus far he drew from 
Gothic ideas, and these ideas, I think, would lead 
him no farther. But, as Spenser knew what belonged 
to classic composition, he was tempted to tic his 
subject still closer together by one expedient of his 
own, and by another taken from his classic models. 

His own was to interrupt the proper story of each 
book, by dispersing it into several; involving by this 
means, and as it were intertwisting the several 
actions together, in order to give something like the 
appearance of one action to his twelve adventures. 
And for this conduct, as absurd as it seems, he had 
some great examples in the Italian poets, though I 
believe they were led into it by different motives. 

The other expedient which he borrowed from the 
classics, was by adopting one superior character which 
should be seen throughout. Prince Arthur, who had a 
separate adventure of his own, was to have his part in 
each of the others; and thus several actions were to be 
embodied by the interest which one principal hero had 
in them all. It is even observable that Spenser gives this 
adventure of Prince Arthur, in quest of Gloriana, as the 
proper subject of his poem. And upon this idea the late 
learned editor of the Faerie Queene has attempted, but I 
think without success, to defend the unity and sim- 
plicity of its fable. The truth was, the violence of 

324 HURD 

classic prejudices forced the poet to affect this appear- 
ance of unity, though in contradiction to his Gothic 
system. And as far as we can judge of the tenor of 
the whole work from the finished half of it, the adven- 
ture of Prince Arthur, whatever the author pretended, 
and his critic too easily believed, was but an after- 
thought; and at least with regard to the historical 
fable, which we are now considering, was only one 
of the expedients by which he would conceal the 
disorder of his Gothic plan. 

And if this was his design, I will venture to say 
that both his expedients were injudicious. Their pur- 
pose was to ally two things in nature incompatible, 
the Gothic, and the classic unity ; the effect of which 
niis-alliance was to discover and expose the nakedness 
of the Gothic. 

I am of opinion then, considering the Faerie Queene 
as an epic or narrative poem constructed__on Gothic 
ideas, that the poet had done well to effect no other 
unity than that of design, by which his subject was 
connected. But his poem is not simply narrative; 
it is throughout allegorical: he calls it 'a perpetual 
allegory or dark conceit': and this character, for 
reasons I may have occasion to observe hereafter, 
was even predominant in the Faerie Queene. His 
narration is subservient to his moral, and but serves 
to colour it. This he tells us himself at setting out: 

Fierce wars and faithful loves shall moralize my song, 

that is, shall serve for a vehicle, or instrument to 
convey the moral. 

Now under this idea the unity of the Faerie Queene 
is more apparent. His twelve knights are to exem- 
plify as many virtues, out of which one illustrious 
character is to be composed. And in this view the part 
of Prince Arthur in each book becomes essenUal, and 
yet not principal; exactly as the poet has contrived 
it. They who rest in the Hteral story, that is, who 
criticize it on the footing of a narrative poem, have 


constantly objected to this management. They say 
it necessarily breaks the unity of design. Prince 
Arthur, they affirm, should either have had no part 
in the other adventures or he should have had the 
chief part. He should either have done nothing or 
more. And the objection is unanswerable; at least I 
know of nothing that can be said to remove it but what 
I have supposed above might be the purpose of the 
poet, and which I myself have rejected as insufficient. 

But how faulty soever this conduct be in the literal 
story, it is perfectly right in the moral: and that for 
an obvious reason, though his critics seem not to 
have been aware of it. His chief heip was not to 
have the twelve virtues in the degree in which the 
knights had, each of them, their own ; (such a charac- 
ter would be a monster) but he was to have so much 
of each as was requisite to form his superior character. 
Each virtue in its perfection is exemplified in its own 
knight: they are all, in a due degree, concentred in 
Prince Arthur. 

This was the poet's moral : and what way of ex- 
pressing this moral in the history but by making 
Prince Arthur appear in each adventure, and in a 
manner subordinate to its proper hero? Thus, though 
inferior to each in his own specific virtue, he is 
superior to all by uniting the whole circle of their 
virtues in himself. And thus he arrives, at length, 
at the possession of that bright form of Glory, whose 
ravishing beauty, as seen in a dream or vision, had 
led him out into these miraculous adventures in the 
land of Faerie. 

The conclusion is that, as an allegorical poem, 
the method of the Faerie Qiieene is governed by the 
justness of the moral: as a narrative poem it is 
conducted on the ideas and usages of chivalry. In 
either view, if taken by itself, the plan is defensible. 
But from the union of the two designs there arises a 
perplexity and confusion, which is the proper, and 
only considerable, defect of this extraordinary poem. 




[From Lives of the English Poets, 1779] 

RYDEN may be properly considered as the father 
of English criticism, as the writer who first 
taught us to determine upon principles the merit of 
composition. Of our former poets the greatest drama- 
tist wrote without rules, conducted through life and 
nature by a genius that rarely misled and rarely 
deserted him. Of the rest, those who knew the laws 
of propriety had neglected to teach them. 

Two Arts of English Poetry were written in the days 
of Elizabeth by Webb and Puttenham, from which 
something might be learned, and a few hints had been 
given by Jonson and Cowley; but Dryden's Essay on 
Dramatic Poetry was the first regular and valuable 
treatise on the art of writing. 

He who, having formed his opinions in the present 
age of English literature, turns back to peruse this 
dialogue, will not perhaps find much increase of 
knowledge or much novelty of instruction; but he 
is to remember that critical principles were then in 
the hands of a few, who had gathered them partly 
from the ancients and partly from the Italians and 
French. The structure of dramatic poems was then 
not generally understood. Audiences applauded by 
instinct, and poets perhaps often pleased by chance. 

A writer who obtains his full purpose loses himself 
in his own lustre. Of an opinion which is no longer 
doubted, the evidence ceases to be examined. Of an 
art universally practised, the first teacher is forgotten. 
Learning once made popular is no longer learning; 
it has the appearance of something which we have 
bestowed upon ourselves, as the dew appears to rise 
from the field which it refreshes. 

To judge rightly of an author, we must transport 


ourselves to his time, and examine what were the 
wants of his contemporaries, and what were his means 
of supplying them. That which is easy at one time 
was difficult at another. Dryden at least imported 
his science, and gave his country what it wanted be- 
fore; or rather, he imported only the materials, and 
manufactured them by his own skill. 

The dialogue on the Drama was one of his first 
essays of criticism, written when he was yet a tim- 
orous candidate for reputation, and therefore la- 
boured with that diligence which he might allow 
himself somewhat to remit, when his name gave sanc- 
tion to his positions, and his awe of the public was 
abated, partly by custom, and partly by success. It 
will not be easy to find, in all the opulence of our 
language, a treatise so artfully variegated with suc- 
cessive representations of opposite probabilities, so 
enlivened with imagery, so brightened with illustra- 
tions. His portraits of the English dramatists are 
wrought with great spirit and diligence. The account 
of Shakespeare may stand as a perpetual model of 
encomiastic criticism ; exact without minuteness, and 
lofty without exaggeration. The praise lavished by 
Longinus, on the attestation of the heroes of Mara- 
thon, by Demosthenes, fades away before it. In a 
few lines is exhibited a character, so extensive in its 
comprehension, and so curious in its limitations, that 
nothing can be added, diminished, or reformed; nor 
can the editors and admirers of Shakespeare, in all 
their emulation of reverence, boast of much more 
than of having diffused and paraphrased this epitome 
of excellence, of having changed Dryden's gold for 
baser metal, of lower value though of greater bulk. 

In this, and in all his other essays on the same 
subject, the criticism of Dryden is the criticism of a 
poet; not a dull collection of theorems, nor a rude 
detection of faults, which perhaps the censor was not 
able to have committed; but a gay and vigorous 
dissertation, where delight is mingled with instruction, 


and where the author proves his right of judgement 

by his power of performance. 

The different manner and effect with which critical 
knowledge may be conveyed, was perhaps never more 
clearly exemplified than in the performances of Rymer 
and Dryden. It was said of a dispute between two 
mathematicians, 'malim cum Scaligero errare, quam 
cum Clavio recte sapere' ; that 'it was more eligible to 
go wrong with one than right with the other'. A 
tendency of the same kind every rnind must feel at 
the perusal of Dryden 's prefaces and Rymer 's dis- 
courses. With Dryden we are wandering in quest of 
Truth ; whom we find, if we find her at all, dressed 
in the graces of elegance, and if we miss her, the 
labour of the pursuit rewards itself; we are led only 
through fragrance and flowers: Rymer, without tak- 
ing a nearer, takes a rougher way; every step is to 
be made through thorns and brambles; and Truth, 
if we meet her, appears repulsive by her mien, and 
ungraceful by her habit. Dryden's criticism has the 
majesty of a queen ; Rymer 's has the ferocity of a tyrant. 

As he had studied with great diligence the art of 
poetry, and enlarged or rectified his notions, by 
experience perpetually increasing, he had his mind 
stored with principles and observations; he poured 
out his knowledge with Httle labour ; for of labour, 
notwithstanding the multiplicity of his productions, 
there is sufficient reason to suspect that he was not 
a lover. To write con amore, with fondness for the 
employment, with perpetual touches and retouches, 
with unwillingness to take leave of his own idea, and 
an unwearied pursuit of unattainable perfection was, 
I think, no part of his character. 

His criticism may be considered as general or oc- 
casional. In his general precepts, which depend upon 
the nature of things, and the structure of the human 
mind, he may doubtless be safely recommended 
to the confidence of the reader; but his occasional 
and particular positions were sometimes interested 


sometimes negligent, and sometimes capricious. It 
is not without reason that Trapp, speaking of the 
praises which he bestows on Palamon and Arcite, says, 
'Novimus iudicium Drydeni de poemate quodam 
Chauceri, pulchro sane illo, et plurimum laudando; 
nimirum quod non modo vere epicum sit, sed Iliada 
etiam atque Aeneada aequet, imo superet. Sed novi- 
mus eodem tempore viri illius maximi non semper 
accuratissimas esse censuras, nee ad severissimam 
critices normam exactas: illo iudice, optimum est 
plerumque, quod ille prae manibus habet, et in quo 
nunc occupatur'. 

He is therefore by no means constant to himself. 
His defence and desertion of dramatic rhyme is gener- 
ally known. Spence, in his remarks on Pope's Odyssey, 
produces what he thinks an unconquerable quotation 
from Dryden's preface to the Aeneid, in favour of 
translating an epic poem into blank verse; but he 
forgets that when his author attempted the Iliad, some 
years afterwards, he departed from his own decision, 
and translated into rhyme. 

When he has any objection to obviate, or any 
licence to defend, he is not very scrupulous about 
what he asserts, nor very cautious, if the present pur- 
pose be served, not to entangle himself in his own 
sophistries. But when all arts are exhausted, like 
other hunted animals, he sometimes stands at bay; 
when he cannot disown the grossness of one of his 
plays, he declares that he knows not any law that 
prescribes morality to a comic poet. 

His remarks on ancient or modern writers are not 
always to be tnisted. His parallel of the versification 
of Ovid with that of Claudian has been very justly 
censured by Sewel. His comparison of the first hne 
of Virgil with the first of Statius is not happier. 
Virgil, he says, is soft and gentle, and would have 
thought Statius mad if he had heard him thundering 

Quae superimposito moles geminata colosso. 


Statius perhaps heats himself, as he proceeds, to 
exaggerations somewhat hyperboUcal; but un- 
doubtedly Virgil would have been too hasty, if he had 
condemned him to straw for one sounding line, 
Dryden wanted an instance, and the first that 
occurred was impressed into the service. 

What he wishes to say, he says at hazard ; he cited 
Gorboduc, which he had never seen; gives a false 
account of Chapman's versification ; and discovers, in 
the preface to his Fables, that he translated the first book 
of the Iliad, without knowing what was in the second. 

It will be difficult to prove that Dryden ever rnade 
any great advances in literature. As, having distin- 
guished himself at Westminster under the tuition of 
Busby, who advanced his scholars to a height of 
knowledge very rarely attained in grammar-schools, 
he resided afterwards at Cambridge, it is not to be 
supposed, that his skill in the ancient languages was 
deficient, compared with that of common students; 
but his scholastic acquisitions seem not proportionate 
to his opportunities and abilities. He could not, like 
Milton or Cowley, have made his name illustrious 
merely by his learning. He mentions but few books, 
and those such as lie in the beaten track of regular 
study; from which if ever he departs, he is in danger 
of losing himself in unknown regions. 

In his dialogue on the Drama, he pronounces with 
great confidence that the Latin tragedy of Medea is 
not Ovid's, because it is not sufficiently interesting 
and pathetic. He might have determined the question 
upon surer evidence; for it Ls quoted by QuintiHan as 
the work of Seneca; and the only Une which remains 
of Ovid's play, for one Une is left us, is not there to be 
found. There was therefore no need of the gravity 
of conjecture, or the discussion of plot or sentiment, 
to find what was already known upon higher authority 
than such discussions can ever reach. 

His literature, though not always free from ostenta- 
tion, will be commonly found either obvious, and 


made his own by the art of dressing it; or superficial, 
which, by what he gives, shows what he wanted; or 
erroneous, hastily collected, and negligently scattered. 

Yet it cannot be said that his genius is ever un- 
provided of matter, or that his fancy languishes in 
penury of ideas. His works abound with knowledge, 
and sparkle with illustrations. There is scarcely any 
science or faculty that does not supply him with 
occasional images and lucky similitudes; every page 
discovers a mind very widely acquainted both with 
art and nature, and in full possession of great stores 
of intellectual wealth. Of him that knows much, it 
is natural to suppose that he has read with diligence; 
yet I rather believe that the knowledge of Dryden was 
gleaned from accidental intelligence and various 
conversation, by a quick apprehension, a judicious 
selection and a happy memory, a keen appetite of 
knowledge and a powerful digestion; by vigilance 
that permitted nothing to pass without notice, and 
a habit of reflection that suffered nothing useful to be 
lost. A mind like Dryden's, always curious, always 
active, to which every understanding was proud to 
be associated, and of which every one solicited the 
regard, by an ambitious display of himself, had a 
more pleasant, perhaps a nearer way, to knowledge 
than by the silent progress of solitary reading. I do 
not suppose that he despised books, or intentionally 
neglected them; but that he was carried out, by the 
impetuosity of his genius, to more vivid and speedy 
instructors ; and that his studies were rather desultory 
and fortuitous than constant and systematical. 

It must be confessed that he scarcely ever appears 
to want book-learning but when he mentions books: 
and to him may be transferred the praise which he 
gives his master Charles. 

His conversation, wit, and parts, 

His knowledge in the noblest useful arts, 

Were such, dead authors could not give. 

But habitudes of those that live; 


Who, lighting him, did greater lights receive: 
He drain"d from all, and all they knew, 

His apprehension quick, his judgement true: 
That the most learn'd with shame confess 

His knowledge more, his reading only less. 

Of all this, however, if the proof be demanded, 
I will not undertake to give it; the atoms of proba- 
biUty, of which my opinion has been formed, lie 
scattered over all his works; and by him who thinks 
the question worth his notice, his works must be per- 
used with very close attention. 

Criticism, either didactic or defensive, occupies 
almost all his prose, except those pages which he has 
devoted to his patrons ; but none of his prefaces were 
ever thought tedious. They have not the formality 
of a settled style, in which the first half of the sentence 
betrays the other. The clauses are never balanced, 
nor the periods modelled; every word seems to drop 
by chance, though it falls into its proper place. 
Nothing is cold or languid; the whole is airy, ani- 
mated, and vigorous; what is little, is gay; what is 
great, is splendid. He may be thought to mention 
himself too frequently; but while he forces himself 
upon our esteem, we cannot refuse him to stand high 
in his own. Everything is excused by the play of 
images and the spriteliness of expression. Though all is 
easy, nothing is feeble; though all seems careless, 
there is nothing harsh; and though, since his earlier 
works, more than a century has passed, they have 
nothing yet uncouth or obsolete. 

He who writes much will not easily escape a 
manner, such a recurrence of particular modes as may 
be easily noted. Dr^'den is always another and the 
same, he does not exhibit a second time the same 
elegances in the same form, nor appears to have any 
art other than that of expressing with clearness what 
he thinks with vigour. His style could not easily be 
imitated, either seriously or ludicrously; for, being 
always equable and always varied, it has no promi- 


nent or discriminative characters. The beauty who 
is totally free from disproportion of parts and features, 
cannot be ridiculed by an overcharged resemblance. 

From his prose, however, Dryden derives only his 
accidental and secondary praise; the veneration with 
which his name is pronounced by every cultivator 
of English Hterature, is paid to him as he refined the 
language, improved the sentiments, and tuned the 
numbers of English poetry. 

After about half a century of forced thoughts, 
and rugged metre, some advances towards nature and 
harmony had been already made by Waller and 
Denham; they had shown that long discourses in 
rhyme grew more pleasing when they were broken 
into couplets, and that verse consisted not only in the 
number but the arrangement of syllables. 

But though they did much, who can deny that they 
left much to do? Their works were not many, nor 
were their minds of very ample comprehension. 
More examples of more modes of composition were 
necessary for the establishment of regularity, and the 
introduction of propriety in word and thought. 

Every language of a learned nation necessarily 
divides itself into diction scholastic and popular, 
grave and familiar, elegant and gross ; and from a nice 
distinction of these different parts arises a great part 
of the beauty of style. But if we except a few minds, 
the favourites of nature, to whom their own original 
rectitude was in the place of rules, this delicacy of 
selection was little known to our authors; our speech 
lay before them in a heap of confusion, and every 
man took for every purpose what chance might offer 

There was therefore before the time of Dryden no 
poetical diction, no system of words at once refined 
from the grossness of domestic use, and free from the 
harshness of terms appropriated to particular arts. 
Words too familiar, or too remote, defeat the purpose 
of a poet. From those sounds which we hear on small 


or on coarse occasions, we do not easily receive strong 
impressions or delightful images; and words to which 
we are nearly strangers, whenever they occur, draw 
that attention on themselves which they should trans- 
mit to things. 

Those happy combinations of words which dis- 
tinguish poetry from prose, had been rarely attempted ; 
wc had few elegances or flowers of speech, the roses 
had not yet been plucked from the bramble, or differ- 
ent colours had not been joined to enliven one 

It may be doubted whether Waller and Denham 
could have overborne the prejudices which had long 
prevailed, and which even then were sheltered by the 
protection of Cowley, The new versification, as it 
was called, may be considered as owing its establish- 
ment to Dryden ; from whose time it is apparent that 
English poetry has had no tendency to relapse to its 
former savageness. 

The affluence and comprehension of our language 
is very illustriously displayed in our poetical transla- 
tions of ancient writers; a work which the French 
seem to relinquish in despair, and which we were long 
unable to perform with dexterity. Ben Jonson thought 
it necessary to copy Horace almost word by word; 
Feltham, his contemporary and adversary, considers 
it as indispensably requisite in a translation to give 
line for line. It is said that Sandys, whom Dryden 
calls the best versifier of the last age, has struggled 
hard to comprise every book of his English Meta- 
morphoses in the same number of verses with the 
original. Holyday had nothing in view but to show 
that he understood his author, with so little regard 
to the grandeur of his diction, or the volubility of his 
numbers, that his metres can hardly be called verses; 
they cannot be read without reluctance, nor will the 
labour always be rewarded by understanding them. 
Cowley saw that such copyers were a servile race ; 
he asserted his liberty and spread his wings so boldly 


that he left his authors. It was reserved for Dryden 
to fix the Umits of poetical liberty, and give us just 
rules and examples of translation. 

When languages are formed upon differenc prin- 
ciples, it is impossible that the same modes of expres- 
sion should always be elegant in both. While they 
run on together, the closest translation may be con- 
sidered as the best; but when they divaricate, each 
must take its natural course. Where correspondence 
cannot be obtained, it is necessary to be content with 
something equivalent. 'Translation therefore,' says 
Dryden, 'is not so loose as paraphrase, nor so close 
as metaphrase.' 

All polished languages have different styles; the 
concise, the diffuse, the lofty, and the humble. In the 
proper choice of style consists the resemblance which 
Dryden principally exacts from the translator. He is 
to exhibit his author's thoughts in such a dress of 
diction as the author would have given them, had his 
language been English: rugged magnificence is not 
to be softened: hyperbolical ostentation is not to be 
repressed, nor sententious affectation to have its 
points blunted. A translator is to be like his author: 
it is not his business to excel him. 

The reasonableness of these rules seems sufficient 
for their vindication; and the effects produced by 
observing them were so happy, that I know not 
whether they were ever opposed but by Sir Edward 
Sherburne, a man whose learning was greater than 
his powers of poetry ; and who, being better qualified 
to give the meaning than the spirit of Seneca, has intro- 
duced his version of three tragedies by a defence of 
close translation. The authority of Horace, which 
the new translators cited in defence of their practice, 
he has, by a judicious explanation, taken fairly from 
them; but reason wants not Horace to support it. 

It seldom happens that all the necessary causes 
concur to any great effect: will is wanting to power, 
or power to will, or both are impeded by external 


obstructions. The exigences in which Dryden was 
condemned to pass his life, are reasonably supposed 
to have blasted his genius, to have driven out his 
works in a state of immaturity, and to have inter- 
cepted the full-blown elegance which longer growth 
would have supplied. 

Poverty, Uke other rigid powers, is sometimes too 
hastily accused. If the excellence of Dryden's works 
was lessened by his indigence, their number was 
increased ; and I know not how it will be proved, that 
if he had written less he would have written better ; 
or that indeed he would have undergone the toil of 
an author, if he had not been solicited by something 
more pressing than the love of praise. 

But as is said by his Sebastian, 

What had been, is unknown; what is, appears. 

We know that Dryden's several productions were so 
many successive expedients for his support; his plays 
were therefore often borrowed, and his poems were 
almost all occasional. 

In an occasional performance no height of excel- 
lence can be expected from any mind, however fertile 
in itself, and however stored with acquisitions. He 
whose work is general and arbitrary, has the choice 
of his matter, and takes that which his inchnation 
and his studies have best qualified him to display and 
decorate. He is at liberty to delay his publication, 
till he has satisfied his friends and himself; tiU he has 
reformed his first thoughts by subsequent examina- 
tion; and polished away those faults which the pre- 
cipitance of ardent composition is likely to leave 
behind it. Virgil is related to have poured out a great 
number of lines in the morning, and to have passed 
the day in reducing them to fewer. 

The occasional poet is circumscribed by the 
narrowness of his subject. Whatever can happen to 
man has happened so often, that httle remains for 
fancy or invention. We have been all born; we have 


most of us been married; and so many have died 
before us, that our deaths can supply but few materials 
for a poet. In the fate of princes the public has an 
interest ; and what happens to them of good or evil, 
the poets have always considered as business for the 
Muse. But after so many inauguratory gratulations, 
nuptial hymns, and funeral dirges, he must be highly 
favoured by nature, or by fortune, who says anything 
not said before. Even war and conquest, however 
splendid, suggest no new images; the triumphal 
chariot of a victorious monarch can be decked only 
with those ornaments that have graced his prede- 

Not only matter but time is wanting. The poem 
must not be delayed till the occasion is forgotten. 
The lucky moments of animated imagination cannot 
be attended; elegances and illustrations cannot be 
multipUed by gradual accumulation; the composition 
must be dispatched while conversation is yet busy, 
and admiration fresh; and haste is to be made, lest 
some other event should lay hold upon mankind. 

Occasional compositions may however secure to 
a writer the praise both of learning and facility ; for 
they cannot be the effect of long study, and must be 
furnished immediately from the treasures of the mind. 

The death of Cromwell was the first public event 
which called forth Dryden's poetical powers. His 
heroic stanzas have beauties and defects ; the thoughts 
are vigorous, and though not always proper, show 
a mind replete with ideas; the numbers are smooth, 
and the diction, if not altogether correct, is elegant 
and easy. 

Davenant was perhaps at this time his favourite 
author, though Gondibert never appears to have been 
popular: and from Davenant he learned to please 
his ear with the stanza of four lines alternately 

Dryden very early formed his versification: there 
are in this early production no traces of Donne's or 


Jonson's ruggedness; but he did not so soon free his 
mind from the ambition of forced conceits. In his 
verses on the Restoration, he says of the king's exile: 

He, toss'd by Fate, 
Could taste no sweets of youth's desired age, 
But found his life too true a pilgrimage. 

And afterwards, to show how virtue and wisdom arc 
increased by adversity, he makes this remark : 

Well might the ancient poets then confer 
On Night the honour'd name of counsellor, 
Since, struck with rays of prosperous fortune blind. 
We light alone in dark afflictions find. 

His praise of Monk's dexterity comprises such a 
cluster of thoughts unallied to one another, as will 
not elsewhere be easily found : 

'Twas Monk, whom Providence design'd to loose 
Those real bonds false freedom did impose. 
The blessed saints that watch'd this turning scene, 
Did from their stars with joyful wonder lean, 
To see small clues draw vastest weights along, 
Not in their bulk, but in their order strong. 
Thus pencils can by one slight touch restore 
Smiles to that changed face that wept before. 
With ease such fond chimaeras we pursue. 
As fancy frames for fancy to subdue : 
But, when ourselves to action we betake 
It shuns the mint like gold that chemists make: 
How hard was then his task, at once to be 
What in the body natural we see! 
Man's Architect distinctly did ordain 
The charge of muscles, nerves, and of the brain. 
Through viewless conduits spirits to dispense 
The springs of motion from the seat of sense. 
'Twas not the hasty product of a day. 
But the well-ripen'd fruit of wise delay. 
He, like a patient angler, ere he strook. 
Would let them play a-while upon the hook. 
Our healthful food the stomach labours thus. 
At first embracing what it straight doth crush. 


Wise leeches will not vain receipts obtrude, 
While growing pains pronounce the humours crude; 
Deaf to complaints, they wait upon the ill. 
Till some safe crisis authorize their skill. 

He had not yet learned, indeed he never learned 
well, to forbear the improper use of mythology. 
After having rewarded the heathen deities for their 

With Alga who the sacred altar strows? 
To all the sea-gods Charles an offering owes; 
A bull to thee, Portunus, shall be slain ; 
A ram to you, ye Tempests of the Main: 

he tells us, in the language of religion. 

Prayer storm'd the skies, and ravish'd Charles from thence, 
As heaven itself is took by violence. 

And afterwards mentions one of the most awful 
passages of sacred history. 

Other conceits there are, too curious to be quite 
omitted; as. 

For by example most we sinn'd before, 

And, glass-like, clearness mix'd with frailty bore. 

How far he was yet from thinking it necessary to 
found his sentiments on Nature, appears from the 
extravagance of his fictions and hyperboles : 

The winds, that never moderation knew, 
Afraid to blow too much, too faintly blew; 
Or, out of breath with joy, could not enlarge 
Their straiten 'd lungs. — 

It is no longer motion cheats your view; 
As you meet it, the land approacheth you; 
The land returns, and in the white it wears 
The marks of penitence and sorrow bears. 

I know not whether this fancy, however little be its 
value, was not borrowed. A French poet read to 
Malherbe some verses, in which he represents France 


as moving out of its place to receive the king. 'Though 
this,' said Malherbe, 'was in my time, I do not 
remember it.' 

His poem on the Coronation has a more even tenor 
of thought. Some Unes deserve to be quoted : 

You have already qucnch'd sedition's brand, 
And zeal, that burnt it, only warms the land ; 
The jealous sects that durst not trust their cause 
So far from their own will as to the laws, 
Him for their umpire and their synod take, 
And their appeal alone to Caesar make. 

Here may be found one particle of that old versifi- 
cation, of which, I beUeve, in all his works, there is 
not another: 

Nor is it duty, or our hope alone. 
Creates that joy, but (ull fruition. 

In the verses to the Lord Chancellor Clarendon, 
two years afterwards, is a conceit so hopeless at the 
first view, that few would have attempted it, and so 
successfully laboured, that though at last it gives the 
reader more perplexity than pleasure, and seems 
hardly worth the study that it costs, yet it must be 
valued as a proof of a naind at once subtle and com- 
prehensive : 

In open prospect nothing bounds our eye, 
Until the earth seems join'd unto the sky: 
So in this hemisphere our utmost view 
Is only bounded by our king and you: 
Our sight is limited where you are join'd, 
And beyond that no farther heaven can find. 
So well your virtues do with his agree, 
That, though your orbs of different greatness be, 
Yet both arc for each other's use dispos'd, 
His to enclose, and yours to be enclos'd. 
Nor could another in your room have been. 
Except an emptiness had come between. 

The comparison of the Chancellor to the Indies 
leaves all resemblance too far behind it: 


And as the Indies were not found before 
Those rich perfumes which from the happy shore 
The winds upon their balmy wings convey'd, 
Whose guilty sweetness first their world betray'd 
So by your counsels we are brought to view 
A new and imdiscover'd world in you. 

There is another comparison, for there is little else 
in the poem, of which, though perhaps it cannot be 
explained into plain prosaic meaning, the mind 
perceives enough to be delighted, and readily for- 
gives its obscurity for its magnificence: 

How strangely active are the arts of peace, 
Whose restless motions less than wars do cease; 
Peace is not freed from labour, but from noise; 
And war more force, but not more pains employs: 
Such is the mighty swiftness of your mind, 
That, like the earth's, it leaves our sense behind. 
While you so smoothly turn and roll our sphere. 
That rapid motion does but rest appear. 
For as in nature's swiftness, with the throng 
Of flying orbs while ours is borne along, 
All seems at rest to the deluded eye, 
Mov'd by the soul of the same harmony: 
So carried on by your unwearied care. 
We rest in peace, and yet in motion share. 

To this succeed four lines, which perhaps afTord 
Dryden's first attempt at those penetrating remarks 
on human nature, for which he seems to have been 
peculiarly formed: 

Let envy then those crimes within you see, 
From which the happy never must be free; 
Envy that does with misery reside, 
The joy and the revenge of ruin 'd pride. 

Into this poem he seems to have collected all his 
powers; and after this he did not often bring upon 
his anvil such stubborn and unmalleable thoughts; 
but, as a specimen of his abilities to unite the 
most unsociable matter, he has concluded with 


lines of which I think not myself obliged to tell the 
meaning : 

Yet unimpaired with labours, or with time, 
Your age but seems to a new youth to climb. 
Thus heavenly bodies do our time beget, 
And measure change, but share no part of it: 
And still it shall without a weight increase. 
Like this new year, whose motions never cease. 
For since the glorious course you have begun 
Is led by Charles, as that is by the sun. 
It must both weightless and immortal prove, 
Because the centre of it is above. 

In the Annus Mirabilis he returned to the quatrain, 
which from that time he totally quitted, perhaps from 
this experience of its inconvenience, for he complains 
of its difficulty. This is one of his greatest attempts. 
He had subjects equal to his abilities, a great naval 
war, and the Fire of London. Battles have always 
been described in heroic poetry, but a sea-fight and 
artillery had yet something of novelty. New arts are 
long in the world before poets describe them, for they 
borrow everything from their predecessors, and 
commonly derive very little from nature or from life. 
Boileau was the first French writer that had ever 
hazarded in verse the mention of modern war, or the 
effects of gunpowder. We, who are less afraid of 
novelty, had already possession of those dreadful 
images: Waller had described a sea-fight. Jvlilton 
had not yet transferred the invention of fire-arms to 
the rebellious angels. 

This poem is written with great diligence, yet does 
not fully answer the expectation raised by such sub- 
jects and such a writer. With the stanza of Davenant 
he has sometimes his vein of parenthesis, and incidental 
disquisition, and stops his narrative for a wise remark. 

The general fault is, that he affords more sentiment 
than description, and does not so much impress scenes 
upon the fancy, as deduce consequences and make 


The initial stanzas have rather too much resem- 
blance to the first lines of Waller's poem on the war 
with Spain ; perhaps such a beginning is natural, and 
could not be avoided without affectation. Both 
Waller and Dryden might take their hint firom the 
poem on the civil war of Rome, Orbem iam totum, etc. 
Of the king collecting his navy, he says : 

It seems as every ship their sovereign knows. 
His awful summons they so soon obey; 

So hear the scaly herds when Proteus blows. 
And so to pastiire follow through the sea. 

It would not be hard to believe that Dryden had 
written the first two lines seriously, and that some 
wag had added the two latter in burlesque. Who 
would expect the lines that immediately follow, which 
are indeed perhaps indecently hyperbolical, but 
certainly in a mode totally different? 

To see this fleet upon the ocean move, 

Angels drew wide the curtains of tlie skies; 

And heaven, as if there wanted lights above. 
For tapers made two glaring comets rise. 

The description of the attempt at Bergen will 
afford a very complete specimen of the descriptions 
in this poem: 

And now approach'd their fleet from India, fraught 

With all the riches of the rising sun: 
And precious sand from southern climates brought. 

The fatal regions where the war begun. 

Like hunted castors, conscious of their store, 

Their way-laid wealth to Norway's coast they bring: 

Then first the North's cold bosom spices bore. 
And winter brooded on the eastern spring. 

By the rich scent we found our perfum'd prey. 
Which, flank 'd with rocks, did close in covert lie: 

And round about their murdering cannon lay. 
At once to threaten and invite the eye 


Fiercer than cannon, and than rocks more hard, 
The English undertake th' unequal war: 

Seven ships alone, by which the port is barr'd. 
Besiege the Indies, and all Denmark dare. 

These fight like husbands, but like lovers those: 

These fain would keep, and those more fain enjoy; 

And to such height their frantic passion grows, 
That what botli love, both hazard to destroy: 

Amidst whole heaps of spices lights a ball. 

And now their odours arm'd against them fly: 

Some preciously by shatter'd porcelain fall, 
And some by aromatic splinters die. 

And though by tempests of the prize bereft. 
In heaven's inclemency some ease we find: 

Our foes we vanquish'd by our valour left. 
And only yielded to the seas and wind. 

In this manner is the sublime too often mingled 
with the ridiculous. The Dutch seek a shelter for a 
wealthy fleet: this surely needed no illustration; yet 
they must fly, not like all the rest of mankind on the 
same occasion, but like hunted castors; and they 
might with strict propriety be hunted ; for we winded 
them by our noses — their perfumes betrayed them. 
The husband and the lover, though of more dignity 
than the castor, are images too domestic to mingle 
properly with the horrors of war. The two quatrains 
that follow are worthy of the author. 

The account of the different sensations with which 
the two fleets retired, when the night parted them, is 
one of the fairest flowers of English poetry : 

The night comes on, we eager to pursue 

The combat still, and they asham'd to leave: 

"Till the last streaks of dying day withdrew. 
And doubtful moon-light did our rage deceive 

In th' English fleet each ship resounds with joy. 
And loud applause of their great leader's fame: 

In fiery dreams the Dutch they still destroy, 
And, slumbering, smile at the imagin'd flame. 


Not so the Holland fleet, who, tir'd and done, 
Stretch 'd on their decks like weary oxen lie; 

Faint s%veats all down their mighty members run 
(Vast bulks, which little souls but ill supply). 

In dreams they fearful precipices tread. 

Or, shipwreck'd, labour to some distant shore: 

Or, in dark churches, walk among the dead; 
They wake with horror, and dare sleep no more. 

It is a general rule in poetry, that all appropriated 
terms of art should be sunk in general expressions, 
because poetry is to speak a universal language. 
This rule is still stronger with regard to arts not 
liberal, or confined to few, and therefore far removed 
from common knowledge ; and of this kind, certainly, 
is technical navigation. Yet Dryden was of opinion 
that a sea-fight ought to be described in the nautical 
language; 'and certainly,' says he, 'as those who in 
a logical disputation keep to general terms would hide 
a fallacy, so those who do it in any poetical descrip- 
tion would veil their ignorance.' 

Let us then appeal to experience ; for by experience 
at last we learn as well what will please as what will 
profit. In the battle, his terms seem to have been 
blown away; but he deals them liberally in the dock: 

So here, some pick out bullets from the side. 
Some drive old okum thro' each seam and rift: 

Their left-hand does the calking-iron guide, 
The rattling mallet with the right they lift. 

With boiling pitch another near at hand 

(From friendly Sweden brought) the seams instops'. 

Which, well laid o'er, the salt-sea waves withstand. 
And shake them from the rising beak in drops. 

Some the gaWd ropes with dauby marling bind. 
Or sear-cloth masts with strong tarpaulin coats: 

To try new shrouds one mounts into the wind. 
And one below, their ease or stiffness notes. 

I suppose here is not one term which every reader 
does not wish away. 


His digression to the original and progress of 
navigation, with his prospect of the advancement 
which it shall receive from the Royal Society, then 
newly instituted, may be considered as an example 
seldom equalled of seasonable excursion and artful 

One line, however, leaves me discontented; he 
says, that by the help of the philosophers, 

Instructed ships shall sail to quick commerce, 
By which remotest regions are allied. — 

which he is constrained to explain in a note, 'By a 
more exact measure of longitude'. It had better 
become Dryden's learning and genius to have 
laboured science into poetry, and have shown, by 
explaining longitude, that verse did not refuse the 
ideas of philosophy. 

His description of the Fire is painted by resolute 
meditation, out of a mind better formed to reason 
than to feel. The conflagration of a city, with all its 
tumults of concomitant distress, is one of the most 
dreadful spectacles which this world can offer to 
human eyes ; yet it seems to raise little emotion in the 
breast of the poet ; he watches the flame coolly from 
street to street, with now a reflection, and now a 
simile, till at last he meets the king, for whom he 
makes a speech, rather tedious in a time so busy, and 
then follows again the progress of the fire. 

There are, however, in this part some passages that 
deserve attention; as in the beginning: 

The diligence of trades and noiseful gain, 
And luxury, more late, asleep were laid; 

All was the night's, and in her silent reign 
No sound the rest of Nature did invade 

In this deep quiet 

The expression 'AH was the night's' is taken from 
Seneca, who remarks on Virgil's Une, 

Omnia noctis erant placida composta qutete. 


that he might have concluded better, 
Omnia metis erant. 
The following quatrain is vigorous and animated: 

The ghosts of traitors from the bridge descend 
With bold fanatic spectres to rejoice; 

About the fire into a dance they bend, 

And sing their Sabbath notes with feeble voice. 

His prediction of the improvements which shall be 
made in the new city is elegant and poetical, and, with 
an event which poets cannot always boast, has been 
happily verified. The poem concludes with a simile 
that might have better been omitted. 

Dryden, when he wrote this poem, seems not yet 
fully to have formed his versification, or settled his 
system of propriety. 

From this time, he addicted himself almost wholly 
to the stage, 'to which', says he, 'my genius never 
much inclined me', merely as the most profitable 
market for poetry. By writing tragedies in rhyme, 
he continued to improve his diction and his numbers. 
According to the opinion of Harte, who had studied 
his works with great attention, he settled his principles 
of versification in 1676, when he produced the play 
oi Aureng Z^be; and according to his own account of 
the short time in which he wrote Tyrannic Love and 
the State of Innocence, he soon obtained the full effect 
of diligence, and added facility to exactness. 

Rhyme has been so long banished from the theatre, 
that we know not its elfect upon the passions of an 
audience; but it has this convenience, that sentences 
stand more independent on each other, and striking 
passages are therefore easily selected and retained. 
Thus the description of night in the Indian Emperor, 
and the rise and fall of empire in the Conquest of 
Granada, are more frequently repeated than any lines 
in All for Love, or Don Sebastian. 

To search his plays for vigorous sallies, and sen- 
tentious elegances, or to fix the dates of any little 


pieces which he wrote by chance, or by solicitation, 

were labour too tedious and minute. 

His dramatic labours did not so wholly absorb his 
thoughts, but that he promulgated the laws of trans- 
lation in a preface to the English Epistles of Ovid; 
one of which he translated himself, and another in 
conjunction with the Earl of Mulgrave. 

Absalom and Achitophel is a work so well known, that 
particular criticism is superfluous. If it be con- 
sidered as a poem political and controversial, it will 
be found to comprise all the excellences of which the 
subject is susceptible; acrimony of censure, elegance 
of praise, artful delineation of characters, variety and 
vigour of sentiment, happy turns of language, and 
pleasing harmony of numbers; and all these raised 
to such a height as can scarcely be found in any other 
English composition. 

It is not, however, without faults; some lines are 
inelegant or improper, and too many are irreligiously 
licentious. The original structure of the poem was 
defective; allegories drawn to great length will 
always break; Charles could not run continually 
parallel with David. 

The subject had likewise another inconvenience: 
it admitted little imagery or description, and a long 
poem of mere sentiments easily becomes tedious; 
though all the parts are forcible, and every Une 
kindles new rapture, the reader, if not relieved by the 
interposition of something that soothes the fancy, 
grows weary of admiration, and defers the rest. 

As an approach to historical truth was necessary, 
the action and catastrophe were not in the poet's 
power; there is therefore an unpleasing disproportion 
between the beginning and the end. We are alarmed 
by a faction formed out of many sects various in their 
principles, but agreeing in their purpose of mischief, 
formidable for their numbers, and strong by their 
supports, while the king's friends are few and weak. 
The chiefs on cither part are set forth to view; but 


when expectation is at the height, the king makes a 
speech, and 

Henceforth a ssries of new times began. 

Who can forbear to think of an enchanted castle, 
with a wide moat and lofty battlements, walls of 
marble and gates of brass, which vanishes at once into 
air, when the destined knight blows his horn before it? 

In the second part, written by Tate, there is a long 
insertion, which, for poignancy of satire, exceeds 
any part of the former. Personal resentment, though 
no laudable motive to satire, can add great force to 
general principles. Self-love is a busy prompter. 

The Medal, written upon the same principles with 
Absalom and Achitophel, but upon a narrower plan, 
gives less pleasure, though it discovers equal abilities 
in the writer. The superstructure cannot extend 
beyond the foundation; a single character or incident 
cannot furnish as many ideas as a series of events or 
multiplicity of agents. This poem, therefore, since 
time has left it to itself, is not much read, nor perhaps 
generally understood, yet it abounds with touches both 
of humorous and serious satire. The picture of a man 
whose propensions to mischief are such, that his best 
actions are but inability of wickedness, is very skilfully 
delineated and strongly coloured: 

Power was his aim : but, thrown from that pretence. 

The wretch turn'd loyal in his own defence. 

And malice reconcil'd him to his Prince. 

Him, in the anguish of his soul, he serv'd; 

Rewarded faster still than he deserv'd: 

Behold him now exalted into trust; 

His counsels oft convenient, seldom just. 

Ev'n in the most sincere advice he gave, 

He had a grudging still to be a knave. 

The frauds he learnt in his fanatic years, 

Made him uneasy in his lawful gears: 

At least as little honest as he could: 

And, like white witches, mischievously good. 

To this first bias, longingly, he leans; 

And rather would be great by wicked means. 


The Threnodia, which, by a term I am afraid neither 
authorized nor analogical, he calls Augustalis, is not 
among his happiest productions. Its first and obvious 
defect is the irregularity of its metre, to which the 
cars of that age, however, were accustomed. What 
is worse, it has neither tenderness nor dignity, it is 
neither magnificent nor pathetic. He seems to look 
round him for images which he cannot find, and what 
he has he distorts by endeavouring to enlarge them. 
He is, he says, petrified with grief; but the marble 
sometimes relents, and trickles in a joke: 

The sons of art all med'cines try'd. 
And every noble remedy apply'd; 

With emulation each essay'd 

His utmost skill; nay, more, they prayed: 
Never was losing game with better conduct play'd. 

He had been a little inclined to merriment before 
upon the prayers of a nation for their dying sovereign, 
nor was he serious enough to keep heathen fables out 
of his religion. 

With him th' innumerable crowd of armed prayers 
Knock'd at the gates of heaven, and knock'd aloud; 
The first well-meaning rude petitioners 

All for his life assail'd the throne, 
All would have brib'd tlie skies by offering up their own. 
So great a throng not heaven itself could bar; 
'Twas almost borne by force as in the giants' war. 

The prayers, at least, for his reprieve were heard; 
His death, like Hezekiah's, was deferr'd. 

There is throughout the composition a desire of 
splendour without wealth. In the conclusion he 
seems too much pleased with the prospect of the new 
reign to have lamented his old master with much 

He did not miscarry in this attempt for want of 
skill either in lyric or elegiac poetry. His poem On the 
Death of Mrs. Killigrew is undoubtedly the noblest 
ode that our language has ever produced. The first 


part flows with a torrent of enthusiasm. Fervet im- 
mensusque ruit. All the stanzas indeed are not equal. 
An imperial crown cannot be one continued diamond; 
the gems must be held together by some less valuable 

In his first ode for Cecilia's day, which is lost in 
the splendour of the second, there are passages which 
would have dignified any other poet. The first 
stanza is vigorous and elegant, though the word 
diapason is too technical, and the rhymes are too 
remote from one another. 

From harmony, from heavenly harmony. 

This universal frame began: 
When nature underneath a heap of jarring atoms lay. 

And could not heave her head. 
The tuneful voice was heard from high, 

Arise, ye more than dead. 
Then cold and hot, and moist and dry. 
In order to their stations leap, 

And music's power obey. 
From harmony, from heavenly harmony. 

This universal frame began: 

From harmony to harmony 
Through all the compass of the notes it ran. 

The diapason closing full in man. 

The conclusion is likewise striking, but it includes 
an image so awful in itself, that it can owe little to 
poetry ; and I could wish the antithesis of music un- 
tuning had found some other place. 

As from the power of sacred lays 

The spheres began to move, 
And sung the great Creator's praise 

To all the bless'd above. 
So, when the last and dreadful hour 
This crumbling pageant shall devour. 
The trumpet shall be heard on high. 
The dead shall live, the living die. 
And music shall untune the sky. 

Of his skill in elegy he has given a specimen in his 


Eleonora, of which the following Unes discover their 


Though all these rare endowments of the mind 
Were in a narrow space of hfe confin'd, 
The figure was with full perfection crov\Ti'd; 
Though not so large an orb, as truly round : 
As when in glory, through the public place. 
The spoils of conquer'd nations were to pass, 
And but one day for triumph was allow'd. 
The consul was constrain'd his pomp to crowd; 
And so die swift procession hurried on, 
That all, though not distinctly, might be shown: 
So in the straiten'd bounds of life confin'd. 
She gave but glimpses of her glorious mind : 
And multitudes of virtues pass'd along; 
Each pressing foremost in the mighty throng, 
Ambitious to be seen, and then make room 
For greater multitudes that were to come. 
Yet unemploy'd no minute slipp'd away; 
Moments were precious in so short a stay. 
The haste of heaven to have her was so great, 
That some were single acts, though each complete; 
And every act stood ready to repeat. 

This piece, however, is not without its faults ; there 
is so much likeness in the initial comparison, that 
there is no illustration. As a king would be lamented, 
Eleonora was lamented. 

.As when some great and gracious monarch dies, 

Soft whispers, first, and mournful murmurs rise 

Among the sad attendants; then the sound 

Soon gathers voice, and spreads the news around, 

Through town and country, till the dreadful blast 

Is blown to distant colonies at last; 

V\'ho, then, perhaps, were offering vows in vain, 

For his long life, and for his happy reign : 

So slowly by degrees, unwilUng fame 

Did matchless Eleonora's fate proclaim, 

Till public as the loss the news became. 

This is litde better than to say in praise of a shrub, 
that it is as green as a tree, or of a brook, that it 
waters a garden, as a river waters a country. 


Dryden confesses that he did not know the lady 
whom he celebrates; the praise being therefore in- 
evitably general, fixes no impression upon the reader, 
nor excites any tendency to love, nor much desire of 
imitation. Knowledge of the subject is to the poet 
what durable materials are to the architect. 

The Religio Laid, which borrows its title from the 
Religio Medici of Browne, is almost the only work of 
Dryden which can be considered as a voluntary 
effusion; in this, therefore, it might be hoped, that 
the full effulgence of his genius would be found. But 
unhappily the subject is rather argumentative than 
poetical: he intended only a specimen of metrical 

And this unpolish'd rugged verse I chose, 
As fittest for discourse, and nearest prose. 

This, however, is a composition of great excellence 
in its kind, in which the familiar is very properly 
diversified with the solemn, and the grave with the 
humorous ; in which metre has neither weakened the 
force, nor clouded the perspicuity of argument; nor 
will it be easy to find another example equally happy 
of this middle kind of writing, which, though prosaic 
in some parts, rises to high poetry in others, and 
neither towers to the skies, nor creeps along the 

Of the same kind, or not far distant from it, is the 
Hind and Panther, the longest of all Dryden's original 
poems; an allegory intended to comprise and to 
decide the controversy between the Romanists and 
Protestants. The scheme of the work is injudicious 
and inconmiodious ; for what can be more absurd 
than that one beast should counsel another to rest 
her faith upon a pope and council? He seems well 
enough skilled in the usual topics of argument, 
endeavours to show the necessity of an infallible 
judge, and reproaches the Reformers with want of 
unity; but is weak enough to ask, why, since we sec 

240 N 


witnout knowing how, we may not have an infallible 

judge without knowing where. 

The Hind at one time is afraid to drink at the 
common brook, because she may be worried; but 
walking home with the Panther, talks by the way of 
the Nicene Fathers, and at last declares herself to be 
the Catholic Church. 

This absurdity was very properly ridiculed in the 
City Mouse and Country Mouse of Montague and Prior; 
and in the detection and censure of the incongruity 
of the fiction chiefly consists the value of their per- 
formance, which, whatever reputation it might obtain 
by the help of temporary passions, seems to readers 
almost a century distant, not very forcible or ani- 

Pope, whose judgement was perhaps a little bribed 
by the subject, used to mention this poem as the most 
correct specimen of Dryden's versification. It was, 
indeed, written when he had completely formed his 
manner, and may be supposed to exhibit, negligence 
excepted, his deliberate and ultimate scheme of metre. 

We may therefore reasonably infer that he did not 
approve the perpetual uniformity which confines the 
sense to couplets, since he has broken his lines in the 
initial paragraph: 

A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchang'd, 

Fed on the lawns, and in the forest rang'd; 

Without unspotted, innocent within, 

She fear'd no danger, for she knew no sin. 

Yet had she oft been chas'd with horns and hounds 

And Scythian shafts, and many winged wounds 

Aim'd at her heart; was often forc'd to fly. 

And doom'd to death, though fated not to die. 

These lines are lofty, elegant, and musical, not- 
withstanding the interruption of the pause, of which 
the eflfect is rather increase of pleasure by variety, 
than offence by ruggedness. 

To the first part it was his intention, he says, 'to 
give the majestic turn of heroic poesy'; and perhaps 


he might have executed his design not unsuccessfully, 
had not an opportunity of satire, which he cannot 
forbear, fallen sometimes in his way. The character 
of a Presbyterian, whose emblem is the wolf, is not 
very heroically majestic: 

More haughty than the rest, the wolfish race 

Appear with belly gaunt and famish'd face: 

Never was so deform'd a beast of grace. 

His ragged tail betwixt his legs he wears, 

Close clapp'd for shame; but his rough crest he rears. 

And pricks up his predestinating ears. 

His general character of the other sorts of beasts 
that never go to church, though spritely and keen, 
has, however, not much of heroic poesy : 

These are the chief; to number o'er the rest. 

And stand like Adam naming every beast, 

Were weary work; nor will the Muse describe 

A slimy-born and sun-begotten tribe; 

Who, far from steeples and their sacred sound, 

In fields their sullen conventicles found. 

I'hese gross, half-animated, lumps I leave; 

Nor can I think what thoughts they can conceive; 

But if they think at all, 'tis sure no higher 

Than matter, put in motion, may aspire; 

Souls that can scarce ferment their mass of clay; 

So drossy, so divisible are they, 

As would but serve pure bodies for allay: 

Such souls as shards produce, such beetle things 

As only buzz to heaven with evening wings; 

Strike in the dark, offending but by chance; 

Such are the blindfold blows of ignorance. 

They know not beings, and but hate a name; 

To them the Hind and Panther are the same. 

One more instance, and that taken from the narra- 
tive part, where style was more in his choice, will show 
how steadily he kept his resolution of heroic dignity: 

For when the herd, suffic'd, did late repair 
To ferny heaths, and to their forest lair, 
She made a mannerly excuse to stay, 
ProflTering the Hind to wait her half the way: 


That, since the sky was clear, an hour of talk 

Might help her to beguile the tedious walk. 

With much good-will the motion was embrac'd. 

To chat awhile on their adventures past: 

Nor had the grateful Hind so soon forgot 

Her friend and fellow-sufferer in the plot. 

Yet wondering how of late she grew estrang'd. 

Her forehead cloudy and her count'nance chang'd. 

She thought this hour th' occasion would present 

To learn her secret cause of discontent, 

Which well she hop'd, might be widi ease redress'd, 

Considering her a well-bred civil beast. 

And more a gentlewoman than the rest. 

After some common talk what rumours ran, 

The lady of the spotted muff began. 

The second and third parts he professes to have 
reduced to diction more familiar and more suitable 
to dispute and conversation; the difference is not, 
however, very easily perceived ; the first has fanailiar, 
and the two others have sonorous, lines. The original 
incongruity runs through the whole; the king is now 
Caesar, and now the Lion; and the name Pan is given 
to the Supreme Being. 

But when this constitutional absurdity is forgiven, 
the poem must be confessed to be written with great 
smoothness of metre, a wide extent of knowledge, and 
an abundant multiplicity of images; the controversy 
is embellished with pointed sentences, diversified by 
illustrations, and enlivened by sallies of invective. 
Some of the facts to which allusions are made, are 
now become obscure, and perhaps there may be 
many satirical passages little understood. 

As it was by its nature a work of defiance, a com- 
position which would naturally be examined with 
the utmost acrimony of criticism, it was probably 
laboured with uncommon attention; and there are, 
indeed, few negligences in the subordinate parts. 
The original impropriety, and the subsequent un- 
popularity of the subject, added to the ridiculousness 
of its first elements, has sunk it into neglect; but it 


may be usefully studied, as an example of poetical 
ratiocination, in which the argument suffers little 
from the metre. 

In the poem On the Birth of the Prince of Wales, 
nothing is very remarkable but the exorbitant adula- 
tion, and that insensibility of the precipice on which 
the king was then standing, which the Laureate 
apparently shared with the rest of the courtiers. 
A few months cured him of controversy, dismissed 
him from court, and made him again a playwright 
and translator. 

Of Juvenal there had been a translation by Stapyl- 
ton, and another by Holyday; neither of them is very 
poetical. Stapylton is more smooth, and Holyday's 
is more esteemed for the learning of his notes. A new 
version was proposed to the poets of that time, and 
undertaken by them in conjunction. The main 
design was conducted by Dryden, whose reputation 
was such that no man was unwilling to serve the 
Muses under him. 

The general character of this translation will be 
given, when it is said to preserve the wit, but to want 
the dignity of the original. The peculiarity of Juvenal 
is a mixture of gaiety and stateliness, of pointed 
sentences and declamatory grandeur. His points 
have not been neglected; but his grandeur none of 
the band seemed to consider as necessary to be 
imitated, except Creech, who undertook the thirteenth 
satire. It is therefore perhaps possible to give a better 
representation of that great satirist, even in those 
parts which Dryden himself has translated, some 
passages excepted, which will never be excelled. 

With Juvenal was published Persius, translated 
wholly by Dryden. This work, though like all the 
other productions of Dryden it may have shining parts, 
seems to have been written merely for wages, in a 
uniform mediocrity, without any eager endeavour 
after excellence, or laborious effort of the mind. 

There wanders an opinion among the readers of 


poetry, that one of these satires is an exercise of the 
school. Dryden says that he once translated it at 
school; but not that he preserved or published the 
juvenile performance. 

Not long afterwards he undertook perhaps the most 
arduous work of its kind, a translation of Virgil, for 
which he had shown how well he was qualified by his 
version of the PoUio, and two episodes, one of Nisus 
and Euryalus, the other of Mezentius and Lausus. 

In the comparison of Homer and Virgil, the dis- 
criminative excellence of Homer is elevation and 
comprehension of thought, and that of Virgil is grace 
and splendour of diction. The beauties of Homer are 
therefore difficult to be lost, and those of Virgil difficult 
to be retained. The massy trunk of sentiment is safe 
by its solidity, but the blossoms of elocution easily 
drop away. The author, having the choice of his own 
images, selects those which he can best adorn: the 
translator must, at all hazards, follow his original, and 
express thoughts which perhaps he would not have 
chosen. When to this primary difficulty is added the 
inconvenience of a language so much inferior in har- 
mony to the Latin, it cannot be expected that they 
who read the Georgics and the Aeneid should be much 
delighted with any version. 

All these obstacles Dryden saw, and all these he 
determined to encounter. The expectation of his work 
was undoubtedly great; the nation considered its 
honour as interested in the event. One gave him the 
different editions of his author, and another helped 
him in the subordinate parts. The arguments of the 
several books were given him by Addison. 

The hopes of the public were not disappointed. 
He produced, says Pope, 'the most noble and spirited 
translation that I know in any language'. It certainly 
excelled whatever had appeared in English, and 
appears to have satisfied his friends, and, for the most 
part, to have silenced his enemies. Milbourne, indeed, 
a clergyman, attacked it ; but his outrages seem to be 


the ebullitions of a mind agitated by stronger resent- 
ment than bad poetry can excite, and previously 
resolved not to be pleased. 

His criticism extends only to the preface, pastorals, 
and Georgics; and, as he professes, to give his antagonist 
an opportunity of reprisal, he has added his own 
version of the first and fourth pastorals, and the first 
Georgic. The world has forgotten his book; but since 
his attempt has given him a place in literary history, 
I wall preserve a specimen of his criticism, by inserting 
his remarks on the invocation before the first Georgic, 
and of his poetry, by annexing his own version. 

'Ver. I. 

What makes a plenteous harvest, when to turn 
The fruitful soil, and when to sow the corn — 

It's unlucky, they say, to stumble at the threshold, 
but what has a plenteous harvest to do here? Virgil 
would not pretend to prescribe rules for that which 
depends not on the husbandman's care, but the dis- 
position of Heaven altogether. Indeed, the plenteous 
crop depends somewhat on the good method of tillage, 
and where the land 's ill matured, the corn, without 
a miracle, can be but indifferent ; but the harvest may 
be good, which is its properest epithet, though the 
husbandman's skill were never so indifferent. The 
next sentence is too literal, and when to plough had 
been Virgil's meaning, and intelligible to everybody; 
and when to sow the corn, is a needless addition. 
'Ver. 3. 

The care of sheep, of oxen, and of kine, 

And when to geld the lambs, and sheer the swine, 

would as well have fallen under the cura bourn, qui 
cultus habendo sit pecori, as Mr. D.'s deduction of 
'Ver. 5. 

The birth and genius of the frugal bee, 
I sing, Maecenas, and I sing to thee. 


But where did experientia ever signify birth and genius? 
or what ground was there for such a figure in this 
place? How much more manly is Mr, Ogilby's 
version ! 

What makes rich grounds, in what celestial signs, 
'Tis good to plough, and marry elms with vines. 
What best fits cattle, what with sheep agrees. 
And several arts improving frugal bees, 
I sing, Maecenas. 

'Which four lines, though faulty enough, are yet 
much more to the purpose than Mr. D.'s six. 
'Ver. 22. 

From fields and mountains to my song repair. 

For patrium linquens nemus, saltusque Lycaei — Very well 
explained ! 
'Ver. 23, 24. 

Inventor, Pallas, of the fattening oil, 

Thou founder of the plough, and ploughman's toil ! 

\\'ritten as if these had been both Pallas's invention. 
The ploughman's toil's impertinent. 
'Ver. 25. 

The shroud-like cypress 

Why shroud-like? Is a cypress pulled up by the roots, 
which the sculpture in the last eclogue fills Silvanus's 
hand with, so very like a shroud? Or did not Mr. D. 
think of that kind of cypress used often for scarves 
and hatbands at funerals formerly, or for widows' 
veils, &c.? If so, 'twas a deep good thought. 
'Ver. 26. 

— That wear 
The rural honours, and increase the year — 

What's meant by increasing the year? Did the gods 
or goddesses add more months, or days, or hours to it? 
Or how can arva tueri signify to wear rural honours? 
Is this to translate, or abuse an author? The next 
couplets are borrowed from Ogilby, I suppose, because 
less to the purpose than ordinary. 


'Ver. 33. 

The patron of the world, and Rome's pecuhar guard. 

Idle, and none of Virgil's, no more than the sense of 
the precedent couplet ; so again, he interpolates Virgil 
with that and "the round circle of the year to guide 
powerful of blessings, which thou strew'st around". 
A ridiculous Latinism, and an impertinent addition; 
indeed the whole period is but one piece of absurdity 
and nonsense, as those who lay it with the original 
must find. 
'Ver. 42, 43. 

And Neptune shall resign the fasces of the sea. 

Was he consul or dictator there? 

And watry virgins for thy bed shall strive. 

Both absurd interpolations. 
'Ver. 47, 48. 

Where in the void of heaven a place is free, 
Ah happy, D n, were that place for thee! 

But where is that void? Or what does our translator 
mean by it? He knows what Ovid says God did, to 
prevent such a void in heaven ; perhaps, this was then 
forgotten: but Virgil talks more sensibly. 
'Ver. 49. 

The scorpion ready to receive thy laws. 

No, he would not then have gotten out of his way 
so fast. 
'Ver. 56. 

Though Proserpine affects her silent seat — • 

What made her then so angry with Ascalaphus, for 
preventing her return? She was now mused to patience 
under the determinations of fate, rather than fond of 
her residence. 
'Ver. 61, 62, 63. 

Pity the poet's, and the ploughman's cares. 
Interest thy greatness in our mean affairs. 
And use thyself betimes to hear our prayers. 


Which is such a wretched perversion of Virgil's noble 
thought as Vicars would have blushed at; but Mr. 
Ogilby makes us some amends, by his better lines: 

O wheresoe'er thou art, from thence incline, 
And grant assistance to my bold design! 
Pity with me, poor husbandmen's affairs. 
And now, as if translated, hear our prayers. 

This is sense, and to the purpose: the other, poor 
mistaken stufT.' 

Such were the strictures of Milbourne, who found 
few abettors; and of whom it may be reasonably 
imagined, that many who favoured his design were 
ashamed of his insolence. 

When admiration had subsided, the translation was 
more coolly examined, and found, like all others, to 
be sometimes erroneous, and sometimes hcentious. 
Those who could find faults, thought they could avoid 
them; and Dr. Brady attempted in blank verse a 
translation of the Aeneid, which, when dragged into 
the world, did not live long enough to cry. I have 
never seen it; but that such a version there is, or has 
been, perhaps some old catalogue informed me. 

With not much better success, Trapp, when his 
tragedy and his prelections had given him reputation, 
attempted another blank version of the Aeneid; to 
which, notwithstanding the slight regard with which 
it was treated, he had afterwards perseverance enough 
to add the Eclogues and Georgics. His book may 
continue its existence as long as it is the clandestine 
refuge of schoolboys. 

Since the English ear has been accustomed to the 
mellifluence of Pope's numbers, and the diction of 
poetry has become more splendid, new attempts have 
been made to translate Virgil ; and all his works have 
been attempted by men better qualified to contend 
with Dryden. I will not engage myself in an invidious 
comparison by opposing one passage to another; a 


work of which there would be no end, and which 
might be often oflfensive without use. 

It is not by comparing Une with Hne that the merit 
of great works is to be estimated, but by their general 
effects and ultimate result. It is easy to note a weak 
line, and to write one more vigorous in its place; to 
find a happiness of expression in the original, and 
transplant it by force into the version: but what is 
given to the parts, may be subducted from the whole, 
and the reader may be weary, though the critic may 
commend. Works of imagination excel by their allure- 
ment and delight; by their power of attracting and 
detaining the attention. That book is good in vain, 
which the reader throws away. He only is the master, 
who keeps the mind in pleasing captivity; whose 
pages are perused with eagerness, and in hope of new 
pleasure are perused again; and whose conclusion is 
perceived with an eye of sorrow, such as the traveller 
casts upon departing day. 

By his proportion of this predomination I will 
consent that Dryden should be tried ; of this, which, 
in opposition to reason, makes Ariosto the darling 
and the pride of Italy; of this, which, in defiance of 
criticism, continues Shakespeare the sovereign of the 

His last work was his Fables, in which he gave us the 
first example of a mode of writing which the Italians 
call rifacciinento, a renovation of ancient writers, by 
modernizing their language. Thus the old poem of 
Boiardo has been new-dressed by Domenichi and 
Berni. The works of Chaucer, upon which this kind 
of rejuvenescence has been bestowed by Dryden, 
require little criticism. The tale of the Cock seems 
hardly worth revival; and the story of Palamon and 
Arcite, containing an action unsuitable to the times 
in which it is placed, can hardly be suffered to pass 
without censure of the hyperbolical commendation 
which Dryden has given it in the general preface, 
and in a poetical dedication, a piece where his 


original fondness of remote conceits seems to have 


Of the three pieces borrowed from Boccace, Sigis- 
munda may be defended by the celebrity of the story. 
Theodore and Honoria, though it contains not much 
moral, yet afforded opportunities of striking descrip- 
tion. And Cymon was formerly a tale of such reputation, 
that, at the revival of letters, it was translated into 
Latin by one of the Beroalds. 

Whatever subjects employed his pen, he was still 
improving our measures and embellishing our lan- 
guage. . . 

In this volume are interspersed some short original 
poems, which with his prologues, epilogues, and songs, 
may be comprised in Congreve's remark, that even 
those, if he had written nothing else, would have 
entitled him to the praise of excellence in his kind. 
One composition must, however, be distinguished. 
The Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, perhaps the last effort of 
his poetry, has alv/ays been considered as exJiibiting 
the highest flight of fancy, and the exactest nicety of 
art. This is allowed to stand without a rival. If 
indeed there is any excellence beyond it, in some 
other of Dryden's works that excellence must be found. 
Compared with the Ode on Killigrew, it may be 
pronounced perhaps superior in the whole ; but with- 
out any single part equal to the first stanza of the 

It is said to have cost Dryden a fortnight's labour; 
but it does not want its negligences : some of the lines 
are without correspondent rhymes; a defect, which 
I never detected but after an acquaintance of many 
years, and which the enthusiasm of the writer might 
hinder him from perceiving. 

His last stanza has less emotion than the former; 
but is not less elegant in the diction. The conclusion 
is vicious ; the music of Timotheus, which 'raised a 
mortal to the skies', had only a metaphorical power; 
that of Cecilia, which 'drew an angel down', had a 


real effect; the crown therefore could not reasonably 
be divided 

In a general survey of Dryden's labours, he appears 
to have a mind very comprehensive by nature, and 
much enriched with acquired knowledge. His com- 
positions are the effects of a vigorous genius operating 
upon large materials. 

The power that predominated in his intellectual 
operations was rather strong reason than quick sensi- 
bility. Upon all occasions that were presented, he 
studied rather than felt, and produced sentiments not 
such as nature enforces, but meditation supplies. 
With the simple and elemental passions, as they 
spring separate in the mind, he seems not much 
acquainted; and seldom describes them but as they 
are complicated by the various relations of society, 
and confused in the tumults and agitations of life. 

What he says of love may contribute to the ex- 
planation of his character: 

Love various minds does variously inspire; 

It stirs in gentle bosoms gentle fire, 

Like that of incense on the altar laid; 

But raging flames tempestuous souls invade; 

A fire which every windy passion blows, 

With pride it mounts, or with revenge it glows. 

Dryden's was not one of the 'gentle bosoms'. Love 
as it subsists in itself, with no tendency but to the person 
loved, and wishing only for correspondent kindness; 
such love as shuts out all other interest; the love of 
the golden age, was too soft and subtle to put his 
faculties in motion. He hardly conceived it but in its 
turbulent effervescence with some other desires ; when 
it was inflamed by rivalry, or obstructed by difhculties : 
when it invigorated ambition, or exasperated revenge. 

He is therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not 
often pathetic; and had so Uttle sensibility of the 
power of effusions purely natural, that he did not 
esteem them in others. Simplicity gave him no 


pleasure; and for the first part of his Ufe he looked 
on Otway with contempt, though at last, indeed very 
late, he confessed that in his play 'there was nature, 
which is the chief beauty'. 

We do not always know our own motives. I am 
not certain whether it was not rather the difficulty 
which he found in exhibiting the genuine operations 
of the heart, than a servile submission to an injudicious 
audience, that filled his plays with false magnificence. 
It was necessary to fix attention; and the mind can be 
captivated only by recollection, or by curiosity; by re- 
viving natural sentiments, or impressing new appear- 
ances of things; sentences were readier at his call than 
images; he could more easily fill the ear with some 
splendid novelty, than awaken those ideas that slumber 
in the heart. 

The favourite exercise of his mind was ratiocination; 
and, that argument might not be too soon at an end, 
he delighted to talk of liberty and necessity, destiny 
and contingence; these he discusses in the language of 
the school with so much profundity, that the terms 
which he uses are not always understood. It is indeed 
learning, but learning out of place. 

When once he had engaged himself in disputation, 
thoughts flowed in on either side: he was now no 
longer at a loss; he had always objections and solu- 
tions at command: verbaque provisam rem — give him 
matter for his verse, and he finds without difficulty 
verse for his matter. 

In comedy, for which he professes himself not 
naturally qualified, the mirth which he excites will 
perhaps not be found so much to arise from any 
original humour, or peculiarity of character nicely 
distinguished and diligently pursued, as from incidents 
and circumstances, artifices and surprises; from jests 
of action rather than of sentiment. What he had of 
humorous or passionate, he seems to have had not 
from nature, but from other poets; if not always as a 
plagiary, at least as an imitator. 


Next to argument, his delight was in wild and dar- 
ing sallies of sentiment, in the irregular and eccentric 
violence of wit. He delighted to tread upon the brink 
of meaning, where light and darkness begin to mingle; 
to approach the precipice of absurdity, and hover over 
the abyss of unideal vacancy. This inclination some- 
times produced nonsense, which he knew ; as. 

Move swiftly, sun, and fly a lover's pace. 

Leave weeks and mondis behind thee in thy race. 

Amariel flies 
To guard thee from the demons of the air; 
My flaming sword above them to display, 
All keen, and ground upon the edge of day. 

And sometimes it issued in absurdities, of which 
perhaps he was not conscious : 

Then we upon our orb's last verge shall go, 
And see the ocean leaning on the sky; 

From thence our rolling neighbours we shall know. 
And on the limar world securely pry. 

These lines have no meaning : but may we not say, 
in imitation of Cowley on another book, 

'Tis so like sense 'twill serve tlie turn as well? 

This endeavour after the grand and the new pro- 
duced many sentiments either great or bulky, and 
many images either just or splendid: 

I am as free as Nature first made man, 
Ere the base laws of servitude began, 
When wild in woods the noble savage ran. 

— 'Tis but because the Living death ne'er knew. 
They fear to prove it as a thing that's new: 
Let me th' experiment before you try, 
I'll show you first how easy 'tis to die. 

— There with a forest of their darts he strove, 

And stood like Capaneus defying Jove ; 

V\'ith his broad sword the boldest beating down. 

While Fate grew pale lest he should win the town. 

And turn'd the iron leaves of his dark book 

To make new dooms, or mend what it mistook. 


— I beg no pity for this mouldering clay; 

For if you give it burial, there it tates 

Possession of your earth ; 

If burnt, and scatter'd in the air, the winds 

That strew my dust diffuse my royalty, 

And spread me o'er your clime; for where one atom 

Of mine shall light, know there Sebastian reigns. 

Of these quotations the two first may be allowed to 
be great, the two latter only timid. 

Of such selection there is no end. I will add only 
a few more passages; of which the first, though it may 
perhaps not be quite clear in prose, is not too obscure 
for poetry, as the meaning that it has is noble : 

No, there is a necessity in Fate, 
Why still the brave bold man is fortunate; 
He keeps his object ever full in sight, 
And that assurance holds him firm and right; 
True, 'tis a narrow way that leads to bliss. 
But right before there is no precipice; 
Fear makes men look aside, and so their footing miss. 

Of the images which the two following citations 
afTord, the first is elegant, the second magnificent; 
whether either be just let the reader judge: 

What precious drops are these, 
Which silently each other's track pursue. 
Bright as young diamonds in their infant dew? 

-Resign your castle- 

— Enter, brave Sir; for when you speak the word, 
The gates shall open of their own accord ; 
The genius of the place its Lord shall meet. 
And bow its towery forehead at your feet. 

These bursts of extravagance Dryden calls the 
Delilahs of the theatre: and owns that many noisy 
lines ofMaximin and Almanzor call out for vengeance 
upon him; 'but I knew', says he, 'that they were bad 
enough to please, even when I wrote them'. There is 
surely reason to suspect that he pleased himself as well 


as his audience; and that these, like the harlots of 
other men, had his love, though not his approbation. 

He had sometimes faults of a less generous and 
splendid kind. He makes, hke almost all other poets, 
very frequent use of mythology, and sometimes con- 
nects religion and fable too closely without distinction. 

He descends to display his knowledge with pedantic 
ostentation; as when, in translating Virgil, he says 
'tack to the larboard' — and 'veer starboard'; and 
talks in another work of 'virtue spooming before the 
wind'. His vanity now and then betrays his ignorance : 

They Nature's king through Nature's optics view'd; 
Revers'd they view'd him lessen'd to their eyes. 

He had heard of reversing a telescope, and unluckily 
reverses the object. 

He is sometimes unexpectedly mean. When he de- 
scribes the Supreme Being as moved by prayer to stop 
the Fire of London, what is his expression ? 

A hollow crystal pyramid he takes, 

In firmamental waters dipp'd above, 
Of this a broad extinguisher he makes, 

And hoods the flames that to their quarry strove. 

When he describes the Last Day, and the decisive 
tribunal, he intermingles this image: 

When rattling bones together fly. 
From the four quarters of the sky. 

It was indeed never in his power to resist the tempta- 
tion of a jest. In his elegy on Cromwell: 

No sooner was the Frenchman's cause embrac'd, 
Than the light Monsieur the grave Don outweigh'd; 
His fortune turn'd the scale 

He had a vanity, unworthy of his abilities, to show, 
as may be suspected, the rank of the company with 
whom he lived, by the use of French words, which 
had then crept into conversation; such as frakheur for 


coolness, fougue for turbulence, and a few more, none 
of which the language has incorporated or retained. 
They continue only where they stood first, perpetual 
warnings to ftiture innovators. 

These are his faults of affectation; his faults of negli- 
gence are beyond recital. Such is the unevenness of 
his compositions, that ten lines are seldom found 
togetlier without something of which the reader is 
ashamed. Dryden was no rigid judge of his own pages ; 
he seldom struggled after supreme excellence, but 
snatched in haste what was within his reach; and 
when he could content others, was himself contented. 
He did not keep present to his mind an idea of pure 
perfection ; nor compare his works, such as they were, 
with what they might be made. He knew to whom he 
should be opposed. He had more music than Waller, 
more vigour than Denham, and more nature than 
Ck)wley; and from his contemporaries he was in no 
danger. Standing therefore in the highest place, he 
had no care to rise by contending with himself; but 
while there was no name above his own, was willing to 
enjoy fame on the easiest terms. 

He was no lover of labour. What he thought 
sufficient, he did not stop to make better; and allowed 
himself to leave many parts unfinished, in confidence 
that the good lines would overbalance the bad. What 
he had once written, he dismissed from his thoughts; 
and, I believe, there is no example to be found of any 
correction or improvement made by him after publica- 
tion. The hastiness of his productions might be the 
effect of necessity; but his subsequent neglect could 
hardly have any other cause than impatience of study. 

What can be said of his versification will be little 
more than a dilatation of the praise given it by Pope: 

Waller was smooth; but Dryden taught to join 
The varying verse, the full-resounding line, 
The long majestic march, and energy divine. 

Some improvements had been already made in 


English numbers ; but the full force of our language was 
not yet felt ; the verse that was smooth was commonly 
feeble. If Cowley had sometimes a finished line, he 
had it by chance. Dryden knew how to choose the 
flowing and the sonorous words; to vary the pauses, 
and adjust the accents; to diversify the cadence, and 
yet preserve the smoothness of his metre. 

Of triplets and Alexandrines, though he did not 
introduce the use, he established it. The triplet has 
long subsisted among us. Dryden seems not to have 
traced it higher than to Chapman's Homer; but it is to 
be found in Phaer's Virgil, written in the reign of Mary, 
and in Hall's Satires, published five years before the 
death of Elizabeth. 

The Alexandrine was, I believe, first used by 
Spenser, for the sake of closing his stanza with a fuller 
sound. We had a longer measure of fourteen syllables, 
into which the Aeneid was translated by Phaer, and 
other works of the ancients, by other writers; of which 
Chapman's Iliad was, I believe, the last. 

The two first lines of Phaer's third Aeneid will 
exemplify this measure: 

When Asia's state was overthrown, and Priam's kingdom 

All guiltless, by the power of gods above was rooted out. 

As these lines had their break, or caesura, always at 
the eighth syllable, it was thought, in time, commo- 
dious to divide them; and quatrains of lines alternately 
consisting of eight and six syllables, make the most 
soft and pleasing of our lyric measures ; as, 

Relentless Time, destroying power, 

Which stone and brass obey. 
Who giv'st to every flying hour 

To work some new decay. 

In the Alexandrine, when its power was once felt, 
some poems, as Drayton's Polyolbion, were wholly 
written; and sometimes the measures of twelve and 
fourteen syllables were interchanged with one another. 


Cowley was the first that inserted the Alexandrine at 
pleasure among the heroic lines of ten syllables, and 
from him Dryden professes to have adopted it. 

The triplet and Alexandrine are not universally 
approved. Swift always censured them, and wrote 
some lines to ridicule them. In examining their pro- 
priety, it is to be considered that the essence of verse is 
regularity, and its ornament is variety. To write 
verse is to dispose syllables and sounds harmonically 
by some known and settled rule; a rule, however, lax 
enough to substitute similitude for identity, to admit 
change without breach of order, and to reheve the ear 
without disappointing it. Thus a Latin hexameter is 
formed from dactyls and spondees differently com- 
bined; the English heroic admits of acute or grave 
syllables variously disposed. The Latin never deviates 
into seven feet, or exceeds the number of seventeen 
syllables; but the English Alexandrine breaks the law- 
ful bounds, and surprises the reader with two syllables 
more than he expected. 

The effect of the triplet is the same: the ear has 
been accustomed to expect a new rhyme m every 
couplet; but is on a sudden surprised with three 
rhymes together, to which the reader could not accorn- 
modate his voice, did he not obtain notice of the 
change from the braces in the margins. Surely there 
is something unskilful in the necessity of such mecha- 
nical direction. 

Considering the metrical art simply as a science, 
and consequently excluding all casualty, we must allow 
that triplets and Alexandrines, inserted by caprice, are 
interruptions of that constancy to which science 
aspires. And though the variety which they produce 
may very justly be desired, yet to make our poetry 
exact, there ought to be some stated mode of admitting 

But till some such regulation can be formed, I wish 
them still to be retained in their present state. They 
are sometimes grateful to the reader, and sometimes 


convenient to the poet. Fenton was of opinion that 
Dryden was too liberal and Pope too sparing in their 

The rhymes of Dryden are commonly just, and 
he valued himself for his readiness in finding them; 
but he is sometimes open to objection. 

It is the common practice of our poets to end the 
second line with a weak or grave syllable: 

Together o'er the Alps methinks we fly, 
Fill'd with ideas of fair Italy. 

Dryden sometimes puts the weak rhyme in the first: 

Laugh all the powers that favour tyranny. 
And all the standing army of the sky. 

Sometimes he concludes a period or paragraph 
with the first line of a couplet, which, though the 
French seem to do it without irregularity, always 
displeases in English poetry. 

The Alexandrine, though much his favourite, is 
not always very diligently fabricated by him. It in- 
variably requires a break at the sixth syllable; a rule 
which the modern French poets never violate, but 
which Dryden sometimes neglected: 

And with paternal thunder vindicates his throne. 

Of Dryden's works it was said by Pope, that he 
'could select from them better specimens of every 
mode of poetry than any other English writer could 
supply'. Perhaps no nation ever produced a writer 
that enriched his language with such variety of models. 
To him we owe the improvement, perhaps the com- 
pletion of our metre, the refinement of our language, 
and much of the correctness of our sentiments. By him 
we were taught sapere et fari, to think naturally and 
express forcibly. Though Davies has reasoned in 
rhyme before him, it may be perhaps maintained 
that he was the first who joined argument with poetry, 
He showed us the true bounds of a translator's liberty. 


What was said of Rome, adorned by Augustus, may 
be applied by an easy metaphor to Enghsh poetry 
embellished by Dryden, lateritiam invenit, marmoream 
reliquit, 'He found it brick, and he left it marble.' 



Thomas Gray, the son of Mr. Philip Gray, a scrivener 
of London, was born in Cornhill, November 26, 17 16. 
His grammatical education he received at Eton under 
the care of Mr. Antrobus, his mother's brother, then 
assistant to Dr. George; and when he left school, in 
1 734, entered a pensioner at Peterhouse in Cambridge. 

The transition from the school to the college is, 
to most young scholars, the time from which they date 
their years of manhood, liberty, and happiness; but 
Gray seems to have been very little delighted with 
academical gratifications; he liked at Cambridge 
neither the mode of life nor the fashion of study, and 
lived sullenly on to the time when his attendance on 
lectures was no longer required. As he intended to 
profess the Common Law he took no degree. 

When he had been at Cambridge about five years, 
Mr. Horace Walpole, whose friendship he had gained 
at Eton, invited him to travel with him as his com- 
panion. They wandered through France into Italy; 
and Gray's letters contain a very pleasing account of 
many parts of their journey. But unequal friendships 
are easily dissolved: at Florence they quarrelled and 
parted, and Mr. Walpole is now content to have it 
told that it was by his fault. If we look, however, 
without prejudice on the world, we shall find that 
men, whose consciousness of their own merit sets 
them above the compliances of servility, are apt enough 
in their association with superiors to watch their own 
dignity with troublesome and punctilious jealousy, 
and in the fervour of independence to exact that atten- 

GRAY 375 

tion which they refuse to pay. Part they did, what- 
ever was the quarrel, and the rest of their travels was 
doubtless more unpleasant to them both. Gray con- 
tinued his journey in a manner suitable to his own 
little fortune, with only an occasional servant. 

He returned to England in September 1741, and 
in about two months afterwards buried his father, who 
had, by an injudicious waste of money upon a new 
house, so much lessened his fortune, that Gray thought 
himself too poor to study the law. He therefore retired 
to Cambridge, where he soon after became Bachelor 
of Civil Law ; and where, without liking the place or its 
inhabitants, or professing to like them, he passed, ex- 
cept a short residence at London, the rest of his life. 

About this time he was deprived of Mr. West, the 
son of a chancellor of Ireland, a friend on whom he 
appears to have set a high value, and who deserved 
his esteem by the powers which he shows in his letters, 
and in the Ode to Alaj, which Mr. Mason has preserved, 
as well as by the sincerity with which, when Gray sent 
him part oi Agrippina, a tragedy that he had just begun, 
he gave an opinion which probably intercepted the 
progress of the work, and which the judgement of 
every reader will confirm. It was certainly no loss to 
the English stage that Agrippina was never finished. 

In this year (1742) Gray seems first to have applied 
himself seriously to poetry ; for in this year were pro- 
duced the Ode to Spring, his Prospect of Eton, and his 
Ode to Adversity. He began likewise a Latin poem, De 
Principiis Cogitandi. 

It may be collected from the narrative of Mr. 
Mason, that his first ambition was to have excelled 
in Latin poetry: perhaps it were reasonable to wish 
that he had prosecuted his design; for though there 
is at present some embarrassment in his phrase, and 
some harshness in his lyric numbers, his copiousness of 
language is such as very few possess, and his lines, even 
when imperfect, discover a writer whom practice 
would quickly have made skilful. 


He now lived on at Peterhouse, very little solicitous 
what others did or thought, and cultivated his mind 
and enlarged his views without any other purpose than 
of improving and amusing himself; when Mr. Mason, 
being elected fellow of Pembroke Hall, brought him a 
companion who was afterwards to be his editor, and 
whose fondness and fidelity has kindled in him a zeal 
of admiration, which cannot be reasonably expected 
from the neutrality of a stranger and the coldness of 
o critic* 

In this retirement he wrote (i747) an Ode on tU 
Death of Mr. Walpole's Cat; and the year afterwards 
attempted a poem of more importance, on Government 
and Education, of which the fragments which remam 
have many excellent lines. 

His next production (1750) was his far-famed Elegy 
in the Churchyard, which, finding its way into a maga- 
zine first, I believe, made him known to the public. 

An invitation from Lady Cobham about this time 
gave occasion to an odd composition called A Long 
Story, which adds Htde to Gray's character. 

Several of his pieces were published (1753). with 
designs by Mr. Bentley; and, that they might m 
some form or other make a book, only one side of each 
leaf was printed. I believe the poems and the plates 
recommended each other so well, that the whole ini- 
pression was soon bought. This year he lost his 
mother. - 

Some time afterwards (1756) some young men ot 
the college, whose chambers were near his, diverted 
themselves with disturbing him by frequent and 
troublesome noises, and, as is said, by pranks yet more 
offensive and contemptuous. This insolence, having 
endured it awhile, he represented to the governors of 
the society', among whom perhaps he had no friends; 
and, finding his complaint little regarded, removed 
himself to Pembroke Hall. 

In 1757 he published The Progress of Poetry and 1 he 
Bard, two compositions at which the readers of poetry 

GRAY 377 

were at first content to gaze in mute amazement. 
Some that tried them confessed their inability to 
understand them, though Warburton said that they 
were understood as well as the works of Milton and 
Shakespeare, which it is the fashion to admire. Gar- 
rick wrote a few lines in their praise. Some hardy 
cham.pions undertook to rescue them from neglect, 
and in a short time many were content to be shown 
beauties which they could not see. 

Gray's reputation was now so high that, after the 
death of Gibber, he had the honour of refusing the 
laurel, which was then bestowed on Mr. Whitehead. 

His curiosity, not long after, drew him away from 
Cambridge to a lodging near the Museum, where he 
resided near three years, reading and transcribing; 
and, so far as can be discovered, very little affected by 
two odes on Oblivion and Obscurity, in which his lyric 
performances were ridiculed with much contempt and 
much ingenuity. 

When the Professor of Modern History at Cam- 
bridge died, he was, as he says, cockered and spirited up, 
till he asked it of Lord Bute, who sent him a civil 
refusal; and the place was given to Mr. Brocket, the 
tutor of Sir James Lowther. 

His constitution was weak, and believing that his 
health was promoted by exercise and change of place, 
he undertook (1765) a journey into Scotland, of which 
his account, so far as it extends, is very curious and 
elegant; for as his comprehension was ample, his 
curiosity extended to all the works of art, all the ap- 
pearances of nature, and all the monuments of past 
events. He naturally contracted a friendship with Dr. 
Beattie, whom he found a poet, a philosopher, and a 
good man. The Mareschal College at Aberdeen 
offered him the degree of Doctor of Laws, which, 
having omitted to take it at Cambridge, he thought it 
decent to refuse. 

_ What he had formerly solicited in vain, was at last 
given him without solicitation. The Professorship of 


History became again vacant, and he received (1768) 
an offer of it from the Duke of Grafton. He accepted, 
and retained it to his death ; always designing lectures, 
but never reading them; uneasy at his neglect of duty, 
and appeasing his uneasiness with designs of reforma- 
tion, and with a resolution which he believed himself 
to have made of resigning the office, if he found him- 
self unable to discharge it. 

Ill health made another journey necessary, and 
he visited (1769) Westmorland and Cumberland. 
He that reads his epistolary narration wishes that 
to travel and to tell his travels had been more of his 
employment; but it is by studying at home that we 
must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence 
and improvement. 

His travels and his studies were now near their end. 
The gout, of which he had sustained many weak 
attacks, fell upon his stomach, and, yielding to no 
medicines, produced strong convulsions, which (July 
30, 1771) terminated in death. 

His character I am willing to adopt, as Mr. Mason 
has done, from a letter written to my friend Mr. Bos- 
well, by the Rev. Mr. Temple, rector of St. Gluvias in 
Cornwall; and am as willing as his warmest well- 
wisher to believe it true. 

'Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe. 
He was equally acquainted with the elegant and pro- 
found parts of science, and that not superficially but 
thoroughly. He knew every branch of history, both 
natural and civil; had read all the original historians 
of England, France, and Italy; and was a great anti- 
quarian Criticism, metaphysics, morals, politics, 
made a principal part of his study; voyages and 
travels of all sorts were his favourite amusements; and 
he had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture, 
and gardening. With such a fund of knowledge, his 
conversation must have been equally instructing and 
entertaining; but he was also a good man, a man of 
virtue and humanity. There is no character v^ithout 

GRAY 379 

some speck, some imperfection; and I think the 
greatest defect in his was an affectation in delicacy, or 
rather effeminacy, and a visible fastidiousness, or 
contempt and disdain of his inferiors in science. He 
also had, in some degree, that weakness which dis- 
gusted Voltaire so much in Mr. Congreve : though he 
seemed to value others chiefly according to the pro- 
gress they had made in knowledge, yet he could not 
bear to be considered himself merely as a man of 
letters; and though without birth, or fortune, or 
station, his desire was to be looked upon as a private 
independent gentleman, who read for his amusement. 
Perhaps it may be said, What signifies so much know- 
ledge, when it produced so little? Is it worth taking 
so much pains to leave no memorial but a few poems? 
But let it be considered that Mr. Gray was, to others, 
at least innocently employed; to himself, certainly 
beneficially. His time passed agreeably; he was every 
day making some new acquisition in science; his mind 
was enlarged, his heart softened, his virtue strength- 
ened; the world and mankind were shown to him 
without a mask ; and he was taught to consider every 
thing as trifling, and unworthy of the attention of a 
v^e man, except the pursuit of knowledge and 
practice of virtue, in that state wherein God hath 
placed us.' 

To this character Mr. Mason has added a more 
particular account of Gray's skill in zoology. He has 
remarked that Gray's effeminacy was affected most 
before those whom he did not wish to please; and 
that he is unjustly charged with making knowledge 
his sole reason of preference, as he paid his esteem to 
none whom he did not likewise believe to be good. 

What has occurred to me, from the slight inspection 
of his letters in which my undertaking has engaged 
me, is, that his mind had a large grasp ; that his curi- 
osity was unlimited, and his judgement cultivated; 
that he was a man likely to love much where he loved 
at all, but that he was fastidious and hard to please. 


His contempt, however, is often employed, where I 
hope it will be approved, upon scepticism and infide- 
lity. His short account of Shaftesbury I will insert. 

'You say you cannot conceive how Lord Shaftes- 
bury came to be a philosopher in vogue; I will tell 
you : first, he was a lord ; secondly, he was as vain as 
any of his readers ; thirdly, men are very prone to be- 
lieve what they do not understand ; fourthly, they will 
believe any thing at all, provided they are under no 
obhgation to believe it; fifthly, they love to take a new 
road, even when that road leads nowhere ; sixthly, he 
was reckoned a fine writer, and seems always to mean 
more than he said. Would you have any more reasons? 
An interval of above forty years has pretty well des- 
troyed the charm. A dead lord ranks with commoners: 
vanity is no longer interested in the matter; for a new 
road is become an old one.' 

Mr. Mason has added, from his own knowledge, 
that though Gray was poor, he was not eager of 
money; and that, out of the Utile that he had, he 
was very willing to help the necessitous. 

As a writer he had this peculiarity, that he did not 
write his pieces first rudely, and then correct them, but 
laboured every line as it arose in the train of composi- 
tion ; and he had a notion not very peculiar, that he 
could not write but at certain times, or at happy 
moments; a fantastic foppery, to which my kindness 
for a man of learning and of virtue wishes him to have 
been superior. 

Gray's poetry is now to be considered; and I hope 
not to be looked on as an enemy to his name, if I cori- 
fess that I contemplate it with less pleasure than his 

His Ode on Spring has somethmg poetical, both m 
the language and the thought; but the language is too 
luxuriant, and the thoughts have nothing new. There 
has of late arisen a practice of giving to adjectives, 
derived from substantives, the termination of parti- 

GRAY 381 

ciples; such as the cultured plain, the daisied bank; 
but I was sorry to see, in the lines of a scholar like 
Gray, the honied spring. The morality is natural, but 
too stale ; the conclusion is pretty. 

The poem on the Cat was doubtless by its author 
considered as a trifle, but it is not a happy trifle. In 
the first stanza the azure flowers that blow, show 
resolutely a rhyme is sometimes made when it cannot 
easily be found. Selima, the cat, is called a nymph, 
with some violence both to language and sense; but 
there is good use made of it when it is done; for of the 
two lines. 

What female heart can gold despise? 
What cat's averse to fish? 

the first relates merely to the nymph, and the second 
only to the cat. The sixth stanza contains a melan- 
choly truth, that a favourite has no friend; but the 
last ends in a pointed sentence of no relation to the 
purpose; if what glistered had been gold, the cat 
would not have gone into the water; and, if she had, 
would not less have been drowned. 

The Prospect of Eton College suggests nothing to Gray, 
which every beholder does not equally think and feel. 
His supplication to Father Thames, to tell him who 
drives the hoop or tosses the ball, is useless and puerile. 
Father Thames has no better means of knowing than 
himself. His epithet 'buxom health' is not elegant; 
he seems not to understand the word. Gray thought 
his language more poetical as it was more remote from 
common use: finding in Dryden honey redolent of 
spring, an expression that reaches the utmost limits of 
our language. Gray drove it a little more beyond 
apprehension, by making gales to be redolent of joy 
and youth. 

Of the Ode on Adversity, the hint was at first taken 
from Diva, gratum quae regis Antium; but Gray has 
excelled his original by the variety of his sentiments, 
and by their moral application. Of this piece, at once 


poetical and rational, I will not by slight objections 
violate the dignity. 

My process has now brought me to the wonderful 
Wonder of Wonders, the two sister odes, by which, 
though either vulgar ignorance or common sense at 
first universally rejected them, many have been since 
persuaded to think themselves delighted. I am one of 
those that are willing to be pleased, and therefore 
would gladly find the meaning of the first stanza of 
The Progress of Poetry. 

Gray seems in his rapture to confound the images 
of spreading sound and running water. A stream of 
music may be allowed ; but where does music, however 
smooth and strong, after having visited the verdant 
vales, roll down the steep amain, so as that rocks and 
nodding groves rebellow to the roar? If this be said of 
music, it is nonsense; if it be said of water, it is nothing 
to the purpose. 

The second stanza, exhibiting Mars's car and Jove's 
eagle, is unworthy of further notice. Criticism dis- 
dains to chase a schoolboy to his commonplaces. 

To the third it m.ay likewise be objected, that it is 
drawn from Mythology, though such as may be more 
easily assimilated to real life. Idalia's velvet-green 
has something of cant. An epithet or metaphor drawn 
from Nature ennobles Art; an epithet or metaphor 
drawn from Art degrades Nature. Gray is too fond of 
words arbitrarily compounded. Many-twinkling was 
formerly censured as not analogical; we may say 
many-spotted, but scarcely many-spotting. This 
stanza, however, has something pleasing. 

Of the second ternary of stanzas, the first en- 
deavours to tell something, and would have told it, 
had it not been crossed by Hyperion : the second de- 
scribes well enough the universal prevalence of poetry ; 
but I am afraid that the conclusion will not rise fi-om 
the premises. The caverns of the north and the plains 
of Chili are not the residences of glory and generous 
shame. But that poetry and virtue go always together 

GRAY 383 

is an opinion so pleasing, that I can forgive him who 
resolves to think it true. 

The third stanza sounds big with Delphi, and Egean, 
and Ilissus, and Meander, and hallowed fountain and 
solemn sound ; but in all Gray's odes there is a kind of 
cumbrous splendour which we wish away. His posi- 
tion is at last false : in the time of Dante and Petrarch, 
from whom he derives our first school of poetry, Italy 
was overrun by tyrant power and coward vice; nor 
was our state much better when we first borrowed the 
Italian arts. 

Of the third ternary, the first gives a mythological 
birth of Shakespeare. What is said of that mighty 
genius is true ; but it is not said happily : the real effects 
of this poetical power are put out of sight by the pomp 
of machinery. Where truth is sufficient to fill the 
mind, fiction is worse than useless; the counterfeit 
debases the genuine. 

His account of Milton's blindness, if we suppose 
it caused by study in the formation of his poem, a sup>- 
position surely allowable, is poetically true, and 
happily imagined. But the car of Dryden, with his 
two coursers, has nothing in it peculiar; it is a car in 
which any other rider may be placed. 

The Bard appears, at the first view, to be, as 
Algarotti and others have remarked, an imitation of 
the prophecy of Nereus. Algarotti thinks it superior 
to its original ; and, if preference depends only on the 
imagery and animation of the two poems, his judge- 
ment is right. There is in The Bard more force, more 
thought, and more variety. But to copy is le3S than 
to invent, and the copy has been unhappily pioduced 
at a wrong time. The fiction of Horace was to the 
Romans credible; but its revival disgusts us with 
apparent and unconquerable falsehood. Incredulm odi. 

To select a singular event, and swell it to a giant'* 
bulk by fabulous appendages of spectres and pre- 
dictions, has little difficulty, for he that forsakes the 
probable may always find the marvellous. And it has 


little use; we are affected only as we believe; wc are 
improved only as we find something to be imitated 
or declined. I do not see that The Bard promotes any 
truth, moral or political. 

His stanzas are too long, especially his epodes; 
the ode is finished before the ear has learned its 
measures, and consequently before it can receive 
pleasure from their consonance and recurrence. 

Of the first stanza the abrupt beginning has been 
celebrated ; but technical beauties can give praise only 
to the inventor. It is in the power of any man to rush 
abruptly upon his subject, that has read the ballad of 
Johnny Armstrong, 

Is there ever a man in all Scotland — 

The initial resemblances, or aUiterations, ruin, 
ruthless, helm or hauberk, are below the grandeur 
of a poem that endeavours at subUmity. 

In the second stanza the Bard is well described; 
but in the third we have the puerilities of obsolete 
mythology. When we are told that Cadwallo hushed 
the stormy main, and that Modred made huge Plin- 
limmon bow his cloud-topped head, attention recoils 
from the repetition of a tale tliat, even when it was 
first heard, was heard with scorn. 

The weaving of the winding sheet he borrowed, 
as he owns, from the northern bards ; but their texture, 
however, was very properly the work of female powers, 
as the art of spinning the thread of life in another 
mythology. Theft is always dangerous; Gray has 
made weavers of his slaughtered bards by a fiction 
outrageous and incongruous. They are then called 
upon to weave the warp, and weave the woof, per- 
haps with no great propriety; for it is by crossing the 
woof with the warp that men weave the web or piece; 
and the first line was dearly bought by the admission 
of its wretched correspondent, 'Give ample room and 
verge enough'. He has, however, no other Une as bad. 
The third stanza of the second ternary is com- 

GRAY 385 

mended, I think, beyond its merit. The personifica- 
tion is indistinct. Thirst and hunger are not aUke; 
and their features, to make the imagery perfect, should 
have been discriminated. We are told, in the same 
stanza, how towers are fed. But I will no longer look 
for particular faults; yet let it be observed that the 
ode might have been concluded with an action of 
better example ; but suicide is always to be had, with- 
out expense of thought. 

These odes are marked by glittering accumula- 
tions of ungraceful ornaments ; they strike, rather than 
please; the images are magnified by aflfectation; the 
language is laboured into harshness. The mind of 
the writer seems to work with unnatural violence. 
'Double, double, toil and trouble.' He has a kind of 
strutting dignity, and is tall by walking on tiptoe. His 
art and his struggle are too visible, and there is too 
little appearance of ease and nature. 

To say that he has no beauties would be unjust : a man 
like him, of great learning and great industry, could not 
but produce something valuable. When he pleases least, 
it can only be said that a good design was ill directed. 

His translations of Northern and Welsh poetry de- 
serve praise; the imagery is preserved, perhaps often 
improved ; but the language is unlike the language of 
other poets. 

In the character of his Elegy I rejoice to concur with 
the common reader; for by the common sense of 
readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all 
the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of 
learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical 
honours. The Churcliyard abounds with images which 
find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to 
which every bosom returns an echo. The four stanzas 
beginning 'Yet even these bones', are to me original: 
I have never seen the notions in any other place ; yet 
he that reads them here, persuades himself that he has 
always felt them. Had Gray written often thus, it had 
been vain to blame, and useless to praise him. 

240 o 



THE poems which compose the present volume 
were published almost thirty years before the 
appearance of the Paradise Lost. During that interval, 
they were so totally disregarded, at least by the general 
reader, as scarcely to have conferred on their author 
the reputation of a writer of verses ; much less the dis- 
tinction and character of a true poet. After the pub- 
lication of the Paradise Lost, whose acknowledged 
merit and increasing celebrity might have naturally 
contributed to call other pieces of the same author, 
and of a kindred excellence, into a more conspicuous 
point of view, they long continued to remain in their 
original state of neglect and obscurity. At the infancy 
of their circulation, and for some years afterwards, 
they were overwhelmed in the commotions of faction, 
the conflict of religious disputation, and the profes- 
sional ignorance of fanaticism. In succeeding years, 
when tumults and usurpations were at an end, and 
leisure and literature returned, the times were still 
unpropitious, and the public taste was unprepared for 
their reception. It was late in the present century 
before they attained their just measure of esteem and 
popularity. Wit and rhyme, sentiment and satire, 
polished numbers, sparkling couplets, and pointed 
periods, having so long kept undisturbed possession 
in our poetry, would not easily give way to fiction 
and fancy, to picturesque description, and romantic 

When Sir Henry Wotton, 1637, had received from 
Milton the compliment of a present of Comus, at first 
separately printed by the care of Henry Lawes, he 
returned a panegyric on the performance in which 


real approbation undoubtedly concurred with the 
partiality of private friendship, and a grateful sense of 
this kind testimony of Milton's regard. But Wotton, 
a scholar and a poet, did not perceive the genuine 
graces of this exquisite masque, which yet he professes 
to have 'viewed with singular delight'. His con- 
ceptions did not reach to the higher poetry of Comus. 
He was rather struck with the pastoral mellifluence of 
its lyric measures, which he styles 'a certain Doric 
delicacy in the songs and odes', than with its grave and 
more majestic tones, with the solemnity and variety of 
its peculiar vein of original invention. This drama was 
not to be generally characterized by its songs and 
odes: nor do I know that softness and sweetness, 
although they want neither, are particularly charac- 
teristical of those passages, which are most commonly 
rough with strong and crowded images, and rich in 
personification. However, the Song to Echo, and the 
initial strains of Gomus's invocation, are much in the 
style which Wotton describes. 

The first edition of these poems, comprehending 
Comus already printed, and Lycidas, of which there was 
also a previous impression, is dated in 1645. But I do 
not recollect, that for seventy years afterwards, they 
are once mentioned in the whole succession of English 
literature. Perhaps almost the only instance on record 
in that period of time of tlieir having received any, 
even a slight, mark of attention or notice, is to be 
found in Archbishop Bancroft's papers at Oxford. In 
these papers is contained a very considerable collec- 
tion of poetry, but chiefly religious, exactly and 
elegantly transcribed with his own hand, while he was 
a fellow of Emmanuel College, and about the year 
1648, from Crashaw, Cowley, Herbert, Alabaster, 
Wotton, and other poets then in fashion. And among 
these extracts is Milton's Ode on the Nativity, said by 
Bancroft to be selected from 'the first page of John 
Milton's poems'. Also our author's version of the 
fifty-third Psalm, noted by the transcriber, I suppose 

240 O 2 


as an example of ur.common exertion of genius, to 
have been done in the fifteenth year of the translator's 
age. Bancroft, even to his maturer years, retained his 
strong early predilection to poUte literature, which 
he still continued to cultivate; and from these and 
other remains of his studies in that pursuit, now pre- 
served in the Bodleian Library, it appears that he was 
a diligent reader of the poetry of his times, both in 
English and Latin. In an old Miscellany, quaintly 
called Naps on Parnassus, and printed in 1658, there is 
a recital of the most excellent English poets; who, 
according to this author's enumeration are Chaucer, 
Hardyng, Lydgate, Spenser, Drayton, Shakespeare, 
Jonson, Donne, Beaumont and Fletcher, Sandys, 
Cowley, and Cleveland, with some others then Uving 
and perhaps in fashion, but now forgotten. But there 
is not a syllable of the writer of U Allegro, II Penseroso, 
and Comus. Langbaine, who wrote his dramatic bio- 
graphy in 1 69 1, a scholar and a student in English 
poetry, having enumerated Milton's greater English 
poems, coldly adds, 'He published some other poems in 
Latin and English, printed at London, 1645.' Nor is 
there the quantity of an hemistich quoted from any of 
these poems, in the collections of those who have 
digested the beauties or phrases of the English poets 
from 1655 to 1738, inclusively. The first of these, is 
the English Treasury of Wit and Language, by John Cot- 
grave, 1655. The second, the English Parnassus, or an 
Help to English Poesy, by Joshua Poole of Clare Hall, 
1657. And not to omit the intermediate labours Ox 
Bysshe and Gildon, the latter of whom promises 'to 
give the reader the great images that are to be found in 
our poets who are truly great, as well as their topics and 
moral reflections', the last, and by far the most copious 
and judicious compilation of the kind extant, is 
the British Muse in three volumes, by Thomas Hay- 
ward, with a good Preface by Oldys, published in 
1738. Yet this author professes chiefly to consider, 
*neglected and expiring merit, and to revive and preserve 


the excellencies which time and oblivion were upon 
the point of cancelling, rather than to repeat what 
others had extracted before'. 

Patrick Hume, a Scotchman, in 1695, published 
a large and very learned commentary on the Paradise 
Lost, to which some of his successors in the same pro- 
vince, apprehending no danger of detection from a 
work rarely inspected, and too pedantic and cumber- 
some to attract many readers, have been often amply 
indebted, without even the most distant hint of 
acknowledgement. But Hume, in comparing Milton 
with himself, perhaps conscious of his importance as a 
commentator on the sublimities of the epic muse, not 
once condescends to draw a single illustration from 
this volume of his author. In 1 732, Bentley, mistaking 
his object, and to the disgrace of his critical abilities, 
gave a new and splendid edition of the Paradise Lost. 
The principal design of the Notes is to prove, that the 
poet's native text was vitiated by an infinite variety of 
licentious interpolations and factitious readings, which 
as he pretends, proceeded from the artifice, the ignor- 
ance, or the misapprehension, of an amanuensis, to 
whom Milton, being blind, had been compelled to 
dictate his verses. To ascertain his criticisms in de- 
tecting or reforming these imaginary forgeries, he 
often appeals to words and phrases in the same poem. 
But he never attempts to confirm his conjectures from 
the smaller poems, written before the poet was blind : 
and from which, in the prosecution of the same 
arbitrary mode of emendation, his analogies in many 
instances might have consequently derived a much 
stronger degree of authority and credibility. The 
truth is, Bentley was here a stranger. I must, how- 
ever, except that he once quotes a line from the begin- 
ning of Camus. 

One of the earliest encomiums which this volume of 
Milton seems to have received, was from the pen of 
Addison. In a Spectator, written 171 1, he mentions 
Milton's laughter in the opening of L' Allegro as a very 


poetical figure: and adds, citing the lines at large, 
that Euphrosyne's group of Mirth is finely described. 
But this specimen and recommendation, although 
from so favourite a writer, and so elegant a critic, 
was probably premature, and I suspect contributed 
but little to make the poem much better known. 
In the meantime I will venture to pronounce that 
although the citation immediately resulted from the 
subject of Addison's paper, he thought it the finest 
group or description either in this piece or its com- 
panion the Penseroso. Had Addison ever entered into 
the spirit and genius of both poems, he certainly did 
not want opportunities of bringing them forward, by 
exhibiting passages of a more poetical character. It 
has been observed in the Essay on the Genius of Pope, 
that Milton's nephew, E. Philips, in his 'Tractatus de 
carmine dramatico poetarum veterum cui subjungitur 
Enumeratio Poetarum, Lond. 1670', mentioning his 
uncle's Paradise Lost, adds, 'praeter alia quae scripsit 
elegantissime tum Anglice tuna Latine' (p. 270). And 
Toland, from the same quarter, says of Comus, 'like 
which piece, in the peculiar disposition of the story, the 
sweetness of the numbers, the justness of the expression, 
and the moral it teaches, there is nothing extant in any 
language' (Life, prefixed to Milton's Prose Works, 
Amst. 1698). And of Lycidas, 'the Monody is one o 
the finest [poems] he ever wrote' (Ibid. p. 44). These 
indeed are early testimonies; but as coming from his 
relations are not properly admissible. 

My father used to relate, that when he once, at 
Magdalen College, Oxford, mentioned in high terms 
this volume to Mr. Digby, the intimate friend of Pope, 
Mr. Digby expressed much surprise that he had never 
heard Pope speak of them, went home and immedi- 
ately gave them an attentive reading, and asked Pope 
if he knew anything of this hidden treasure. Pope 
availed himself of the question : and accordingly, we 
find him soon afterwards sprinkling his Eloisa to 
Abelard with epithets and phrases of a new form and 


sound, pilfered from Comus and the Penseroso. It is a 
phenomenon in the history of English poetry, that 
Pope, a poet not of Milton's pedigree, should be their 
first copyer. He was, however, conscious that he 
might borrow from a book then scarcely remembered, 
without the hazard of a discovery, or the imputation 
of plagiarism. Yet the theft was so slight, as hardly to 
deserve the name: and it must be allowed, that the 
experiment was happily and judiciously applied, in 
delineating the sombrous scenes of the pensive Eloisa's 
convent, the solitary Paraclete. 

At length, we perceive these poems emerging in the 
criticism of the times. In 1733, Doctor Pearce pub- 
lished his Review of the Text of Paradise Lost, where they 
frequently furnish collateral evidences in favour of the 
established state of that text; and in refutation of 
Bentley's chimerical corrections. In the following 
year, the joint labour of the two Richardsons pro- 
duced Explanatory Notes on the Paradise Lost, where they 
repeatedly lend their assistance, and are treated in such 
a style of criticism as shows that their beauties were 
truly felt. Soon afterwards, such respectable names as 
Jortin, Warburton, and Hurd conspired in examining 
their excellencies, in adjusting their claims to praise, 
and extending their reputation. They were yet further 
recommended to the public regard. In 1738, Conius 
was presented on the stage at Drury Lane, with 
musical accompaniments by Dr. Arne, and the ap- 
plication of additional songs, selected and adapted 
from U Allegro, and other pieces of this volume: and 
although not calculated to shine in theatric exhibition 
for those very reasons which constitute its essential 
and specific merit, from this introduction to notice 
Comus grew popular as a poem. L" Allegro and // 
Penseroso were set to music by Handel in 1 741 ; and his 
expressive harmonies here received the honour which 
they have so seldom found, but which they so justly 
deserve, of being married to immortal verse. Not long 
afterwards, Lycidas was imitated by Mr. Mason: as 


L* Allegro and // Penseroso had been before, in his H 
Bellicoso ed II Pacifico. In the meantime the Paradise 
Lost was acquiring more numerous readers : the manly 
melodies of blank verse, which after its revival by- 
Philips had been long neglected, caught the public 
ear: and the whole of Milton's poetical works, asso- 
ciating their respective powers as in one common 
interest, jointly and reciprocally co-operated in diffus- 
ing and forming just ideas of a more perfect species 
of poetry. A visible revolution succeeded in the 
general cast and character of the national composition. 
Our versification contracted a new colouring, a new 
structure and phraseology; and the school of Milton 
rose in emulation of the school of Pope. 

An editor of Milton's juvenile poems cannot but 
express his concern, in which, however, he may have 
been anticipated by his reader, that their number is so 
inconsiderable. With Milton's mellow hangings, de- 
licious as they are, we reasonably rest contented: but 
we are justified in regretting that he has left so few of 
his early blossoms, not only because they are so 
exquisitely sweet, but because so many more might 
have naturally been expected. And this regret is yet 
aggravated, when we consider the cause which pre- 
vented the production of more, and intercepted 
the progress of so promising a spring: when we recol- 
lect that the vigorous portion oi his life, that those 
years in which imagination is on the wing, were un- 
worthily and unprofitably wasted on temporary topics, 
on elaborate but perishable dissertations in defence of 
innovation and anarchy. To this employment he 
sacrificed his eyes, his health, his repose, his native 
propensities, his elegant studies. Smit with the deplor- 
able polemics of puritanism, he suddenly ceased to 
gaze on such sights as youthful poets dream. 

The numerous and noble plans of tragedy which 
he had deliberately formed with the discernment and 
selection of a great poetical mind, were at once inter- 
rupted and abandoned; and have now left to a dis- 


appointed posterity only a few naked outlines, and 
confused sketches. Instead of embellishing original 
tales of chivalry, of clothing the fabulous achieve- 
ments of the early British kings and champions in the 
gorgeous trappings of epic attire, he wrote Smectymnuus 
and Teirachordon, apologies for fanatical preachers and 
the doctrine of divorce. In his travels he had intended 
to visit Sicily and Athens, countries connected with 
his finer feelings, interwoven with his poetical ideas, 
and impressed upon his imagination by his habits of 
reading, and by long and intimate converse with the 
Grecian literature. But so prevalent were his patriotic 
attachments, that hearing in Italy of the commence- 
ment of the national quarrel, instead of proceeding 
forward to feast his fancy with the contemplation of 
scenes familiar to Theocritus and Homer, the pines of 
Etna and the pastures of Peneus, he abruptly changed 
his course, and hastily returned home to plead the 
cause of ideal liberty. Yet in this chaos of controversy, 
amidst endless disputes concerning religious and politi- 
cal reformation, independency, prelacy, tithes, tolera- 
tion, and tyranny, he sometimes seems to have heaved 
a sigh for the peaceable enjoyments of lettered solitude, 
for his congenial pursuits, and the more mild and in- 
genuous exercises of the Muse. In a letter to Henry 
Oldenburgh, written in 1654, he says, 'Hoc cum 
libertatis adversariis inopinatum certamen, diversis 
longe, et amoenioribus omnino me studiis intentum, 
ad se rapuit invitum.' And in one of his prose-tracts, 
'I may one day hope to have ye again in a still time, 
when there shall be no chiding. Not in these noises.' 
And in another, having mentioned some of his 
schemes for epic poetry and tragedy, 'of highest hope 
and hardest attempting', he adds, 'With what small 
willingness I endure to interrupt the pursuit of no less 
hopes than these, and leave a calm and plensing 
solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, 
to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse dis- 
putes, frum beholding the bright countenance of 


truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies, 
&c.' He still, however, obstinately persisted in what 
he thought his duty. But surely these speculations 
should have been consigned to the enthusiasts of the 
age, to such restless and wayward spirits as Prynne, 
Hugh Peters, Goodwyn, and Baxter. Minds less 
refined and faculties less elegantly cultivated, would 
have been better employed in this task. 

— Coarse complexions, 
And cheeks of sorry grain, will serve to ply 
The sampler, and to tease the housewife's wool: 
What need a vermeil-tinctur'd lip for that, 
Love-darting eyes, and tresses like the morn? 












Jones, E. D., ed. Pit 

Snglirh critical essays. ,J6 


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